Spain & Canary Islands Cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse
10/19/14 to 10/30/14
Due to the length of the review, it is in three parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in England, Ship, Dining, Entertainment and Activities
Page 2 - Ports of Call: Vigo, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Tenerife, Canary Islands; Madeira, Portugal; La Coruna, Spain
Ports of Call
After a day at sea, we arrived in Vigo. They had a nice port area, with a large mall close to the terminal.
The main tourist attraction in the area is the UNESCO World Heritage site, the town of Santiago de Compostella. I booked a tour through Celebrity to visit the city; but Carol chose a different tour that would have less walking. My guide for the day was Patricia. She was very nice and a wealth of knowledge.
The 1.5 hour drive went by quickly, even though there wasn’t much to see during the trip to Santiago. The most interesting thing was seeing the floating seafood farms. They farm mussels, bay scallops and oysters on the platforms. There were so many of them.
We also drove by a lovely park that had a statue of Pope John Paul, who had visited the area at one time.
The town is well known as the destination for the Way of St. James, which was portrayed in the movie, The Way, with Martin Sheen. I had watched the movie prior to the cruise to get familiar with why the town was such a revered religious site. The remains of St. James are believed to be in the crypts of the cathedral. Also, many miracles have occurred at the cathedral over the years. Each year thousands of people travel to the cathedral on designated paths that can be as far as 500 miles. That is a very long walk. They can also use bikes; but most walk the pilgrimage routes.
We saw several pilgrims walking with back packs and sticks as we entered the town’s outskirts; but they were on the wrong side of the bus for me to take photos. When we finally stopped outside of the main tourist area, we could see the back of a church in the distance.
On the way to the cathedral we passed by some lovely buildings and statues.
Even the stores along the streets in the old town were interesting to look at. The town had lots of character.
At last we arrived at the large main square with the cathedral on one side. The front of the church was undergoing major renovation for the visit of the Pope in 2015. Everyone was so disappointed that we couldn’t see the full beauty of the exterior.
There were other beautiful buildings surrounding the square including the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, which was originally built in 1499 and used for lodging for pilgrims who had ended their journey. It is now the five star Parador Hotel.
The Rajoy Palace is used for the town hall and also the parliament building for Galicia's regional government. I wish there had been time to see the interior of some of these buildings.
The monastery of San Martiño Pinario was another beautiful building across from one side of the cathedral. The original structure was completed in 1652; but it has been reconstructed many times.
There were just so many beautiful building facades to look at. It was easy to understand why this was a UNESCO World Heritage site.
After Patricia told us about various buildings in the square, she took us around the side of the cathedral to see the interior. There was a service going on, so we had to be respectful of the worshippers. With all the people in attendance, I was unable to walk to the front of the alter; but the back side was more ornate with lots of gold covered facades and statues.
As I was walking around the interior, I saw a long line of people waiting to go through a door into a different section of the building. Since the line was long, I passed on it. In the center of the nave was the Botafumeiro that contains incense that is burned during the Sunday and other special services.
A very special thing that is done in this cathedral is that they swing the Botafumeiro at the end of the service releasing the incense smoke throughout the nave. I had seen videos of this on YouTube. I was disappointed that we weren’t visiting on a Sunday to see it. As we left the building and continued our city tour, Patricia told us that if we returned at noon, we could see the swinging Botafumeiro. Apparently we had lucked out and it was a special service they were having.
She walked us around to show us all sides of the cathedral. Every side was a different lovely view.
After the pilgrims complete their journey to the cathedral, they take their credentials or passports that have been stamped all along the way at various points to the pilgrim office to receive their Compostela or certificate of completion. There were several pilgrims there who had just completed their journeys. They let Patricia share their passports and Compostela with us. To receive the Compostela, you must have at least completed the last 100 kilometers on foot or 200 kilometers on bicycle. There were a couple of bikes that had just finished that looked like they had been road hard.
After Patricia finished the tour, she let us go for our free time. I walked through the old town toward the cathedral, so I would be there by noon. I passed a woman who was carrying groceries in her hands and on her head. Things are still done there in the old traditional way.
Everywhere I walked, there were squares with lovely buildings and statues. The image of a shell was on many buildings. It is the symbol of St. James.
When I got to the cathedral, there was standing room only; but I was just happy to be there. I didn’t know which way the Botafumeiro would swing, so I didn’t know if I was in the best place for photos. It turned out that I was. As the priests set it up, the crowd watched intently. Then they pulled the ropes and it started to swing. I couldn’t believe how high it was going. It almost hit the ceiling. The smoke from the incense filled the cathedral.
I took a few photos and then pulled out my iPhone to get a video. I had a problem with the phone, but finally got a short piece of video which I am sharing below. I apologize for the quality; but you can at least get a good idea of the ceremony.
I was so thrilled to be able to view this unique religious experience. I had really lucked out. As I was leaving, I noticed that the long line that I had seen earlier had dropped down to just a few people, so I got in the line. No photos were allowed in that area. I climbed some steps and I was able to look down into the area of the church I had photographed earlier with all the gold. The main reason people were coming into the area was to hug a statue of St. James while saying a short prayer. After I said a prayer I left; but apparently I left too quickly. One of the people on the tour told me later that I should have taken a different stairway that went down to the crypt where the remains of St. James are supposed to be. If you should visit the cathedral, try not to miss it. I was so excited about the swinging Botafumeiro, that I am surprised I even went into the upper part of the special area.
I left the cathedral and continued to walk around. I came upon a lovely courtyard in the Fonseca University building. The statue of Archbishop Fonseca was most impressive.
Close by was a small display of interesting artwork in a room with a lovely ceiling.
I went back to the main square to meet our group to return to the ship. A fellow tourist offered to take my photo in front of the cathedral. How could I resist?
Reclining in the middle of the square was a fellow who had recently completed his pilgrimage. He had taken his boots off and was resting his tired feet and body.
Carol, Hans and Barbara had taken the ship’s tour titled Vigo Sightseeing and Bayona. The first stop was at the Fortaleza del Castro which was built in the 17th century. From there you can get a beautiful panorama of Vigo and the Vigo Estuary. High atop Mount Castro, the castle is quite impressive.
Approaching the castle is not overly difficult, but there are numerous stairs within the walls, so Carol sat this one out.
While waiting for Hans and Barbara to return, Carol found the shape and texture of this tree rather interesting. It looked like it had a mouth and was from one of those fantasy movies. Another tree formed a perfect little sitting area for this young couple.
After leaving the fort, they traveled along the southern Galician coastline to the little fishing village of Bayona La Real. After Columbus’ first voyage of discovery, Bayona was the town where the Pinta first returned in March 1493. There is a replica of the ship floating in the harbor. Carol, Hans and Barbara enjoyed their excursion.
After returning to the ship, I was able to get some photos of the port terminal and city in the sunlight. Both of our excursions had been most enjoyable.
I woke up early to be able to see the Eclipse pass under Lisbon’s 25th of April Bridge. It is the same color and looks very much like the Golden Gate Bridge. The name commemorates the start of Portugal’s revolution which started on April 25, 1974. It was nice to see the city with the buildings lit up. As daylight broke, I could see that Lisbon was quite a lovely city. This was going to be a good touring port!
We had set up a private tour to share with our friends Hans and Barbara. I booked Alex from Top Ten Tours (www.toptentours.eu). He was a very nice upbeat young man that constantly did everything he could to provide us with the best tour possible. He greatly exceeded our expectations.
His van was quite comfortable and easy to get in and out of all day. As we were leaving the port, I got a kick out of the mural on the wall of one of the port buildings.
The first place we headed was the beautiful church I had seen from the ship earlier. Alex told us that it was the National Pantheon where important Portuguese personalities are buried.
Driving through Lisbon was quite an experience since we were constantly going up and down hills. This is not a normal experience for people living in very flat Florida. But we would get quite used to driving in hills and mountains before the cruise was over. We really enjoyed the Lisbon architecture and statues that lined the streets.
We got our first glimpse of the lovely decorated tile sidewalks that were all over Lisbon. They really added a special touch to the city. Alex told us that at one time, the different patterns denoted different neighborhoods within the city.
Our main destination for the day was the UNESCO World Heritage city of Sintra. It is known for its many architectural monuments. As we entered the city we saw a glimpse of a large estate up in the mountain over the city. It was just a preview of coming attractions.
Alex parked the car and pointed out some of the important places in Sintra. Since we parked right in front of it, he told us about the beautiful Sintra Town Hall. There was so much detail work on the building as well as the statue in front of the building.
Close by was the National Palace of Sintra, which has been used since the 15th century. The most distinguishing feature of the palace are the two massive chimneys, which have become the emblem of Sintra. We got a kick out of seeing an artist painting the palace on his canvas.
We would have liked to tour the National Palace, which is where most of the large tour busses go; but we had in mind a more unique place to visit that the buses can’t go. But first Alex wanted us to try a couple of the famous pastries of Sintra. He pointed out a couple of pastry shops and told us what to order. The long one is a travesseiros. The outside is a flaky shell. The inside filling is made with egg yolk, sugar and almond. The other ones were a type of cheese cake. They were both quite delicious.
Alex gave us time to check out some of the other shops. He told us about the various products that were made out of cork. We were surprised to find so many different types of cork items. There were purses, wallets, watch bands, shoes, hats and even men’s ties.
Carol and I had to get some cork souvenirs. I bought a wallet and she got a purse.
After a little play time in the shops, we got back in Alex’s van for the highlight of the day, the Pena Palace which is considered the Jewel of Sintra. It was originally the king’s summer palace. Alex stopped at the bottom of the hill so that we could take a photo of the massive brightly colored building. He said it was the best place to capture the widest view of the palace. Unfortunately, it was the wrong time of day with the sun behind the palace instead of lighting it up; but it does show how large it is.
Alex stopped at the ticket building and told us to be sure to purchase the tram tickets at the same time we bought tickets to tour the palace. The tram only cost 2€ ($2.60 US) per person; but is essential since the ticket booth is at the bottom of the hill and the palace at the top. It’s not a walk you want to make. The trams were quite small and everyone stuffed in, since they didn’t want to have to wait for the next one. We could see why the ship excursions couldn’t visit the Pena Palace with the narrow roads and limited trams. Plus having hundreds of additional people in the palace would not be desirable.
Where the tram dropped us off in front of the wall, we could see that we would still have a lot of uphill walking to get to the palace. But my goodness, what an amazing palace it was.
As we walked up to the palace entrance, we kept getting different views of the brightly colored building. It was such an unusual place, but so fascinating.
At last we came to the main entrance. There was a large statue of a newt above it. Quite an ugly creature; but an awesome sculpture.
There was a large patio area near the entrance where we could get other views of the palace as well as a view down the mountain.
Just inside the door was a jade statue of King Ferdinand II, who transformed the old ruined monastery into what would become the summer palace for Portuguese royalty. The construction took place between 1842 and 1854, although it was mostly completed by 1847.
The interior of the palace was also quite unique. Since the shop had run out of guide books in English, I can’t tell you about the different rooms; but then again, the photos speak for themselves. I put in a lot of photos of the Pena Palace in this review, since it is such a unique place that most people will never get to visit.
Poor Carol was just exhausted from having to climb way more stairs than she is normally able to handle; but she thought it was worth it. When we were done exploring, we found the snack bar where we could sit down with a cold drink. Next to the snack bar was something we wish we had known about earlier, an elevator. We had not seen any signs directing those that needed assistance to an elevator. It wouldn’t have reduced the walk up to the palace; but it certainly would have helped for going between floors within the palace.
After taking the tram back down the mountain, we met back up with Alex who was waiting for us. He took us back into the main city area of Sintra to an off the beaten path restaurant called Apeadeiro’s for lunch. It turned out to be a fantastic place. It is locally owned by people that Alex has known all his life. Fortunately Alex was able to interpret the menu for us and communicate with the restaurant owner to tell him what we wanted to order.
Portugal is known for their sardines, so Barbara and Hans ordered it. They are still raving about how good it was. Carol ordered a wonderful shrimp dish and I had a type of steak.
At the end of the meal, they served complementary travesseiros followed by a small glass of port wine. What a great finish to an outstanding dining experience. Once again, Alex had directed us to the right place.
We had thoroughly enjoyed Sintra, but Alex wanted to show us some more places. We wished we could spend a few days in Sintra seeing the many tourist attractions that are there. As we drove back toward Lisbon, he wanted to show us the lovely seaside town of Cascais. It is a very popular resort city and is also one of the richest municipalities in Portugal. We could see a couple of the lovely estates on a small inlet at our first stop.
We then stopped along the beach to take in some more of the beautiful area.
Alex then dropped us off at the main downtown tourist area for some shopping; but most importantly he told us about the well-known ice cream shop, Santini, and how to find it. Earlier Alex had pointed out some interesting tile ground covering, where the design made the ground look like waves. While walking to Santini’s, we found a large area with the fascinating design. This was certainly a popular shopping area with lots of different shops.
When we found the ice cream shop, we were most fortunate that the line to get ice cream was not that long. Alex had told us that it is normally out the door. Alex was correct that the ice cream was quite delicious. I am sure that if we were vacationing in Cascais we would frequent Santini’s.
Alex was waiting for us close to where we started our walk. He always planned our walks so that he could pick us up with minimal effort on our part. He then drove us along the shoreline road. There were beautiful views of the ocean and large estates. We were thoroughly enjoying our visit to Portugal.
We then stopped at the Tower of Belem, a fortress built in 1519. Since Carol and Barbara could easily see the structure from where we stopped, just Hans and I walked to the other side of the tower to get photos where the lighting was better. Along the water line were tiered steps leading to the water.
The tower was built as a defensive structure; but it has turned in to a very popular tourist attraction. I was just fascinated by its beauty. Photos cannot show how large the tower really is. You need to see it in person.
Adjoining the tower property is the Museu Do Combatente or combat museum. We didn’t have time to go in; but the large statue in front of it attracted my attention.
From the tower we could see the Discoveries Monument in the distance. We started to walk toward it to get a photo; but Alex told us to get in the van, since that was our next destination. Now this was quite a monument! It celebrates the Portuguese age of discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. The main structure represents a ship with three sails. The ship is carved with statues of the famous explorers. Apparently there is an elevator that can take you to the top of the monument for a great view. There is also an auditorium inside the monument, but we didn’t take the time to go inside.
There is a large area in front of the monument that has more of the wave appearing tile decorations; but more importantly there is a map of the world showing the various routes used by the explorers.
Our last stop for the day would be at the Jerónimos Monastery, right across the street from the Discoveries Monument. What a gorgeous structure! I wish we had been able to see the interior; but we had already seen more than we had originally planned and were running out of time.
On the way back to the ship, I was trying to get a photo of a large statue in the center of the Square of Commerce. Since parking was not allowed on the street, Alex pulled up into the median to allow us to get out and take photos. We really appreciated it. The statue is of King Jose I on a horse crushing snakes in his path. Alex pointed out the elephants at the base. Quite an interesting statue.
As we pulled into the port, there was another unusual mural on the other side of the building we had seen earlier in the day. This one had been cracked by an earlier earthquake.
We had spent eight wonderful hours with Alex and had seen so much. He did an outstanding job for us and we were so grateful that we had found him. Lisbon is a town that we could easily spend a week exploring; and if we did, we would want Alex to show it to us.
As we left Lisbon and crossed under the bridge, we got a nice view of the Cristo Rei statue that we had seen earlier in the day from the van; which was inspired by a similar statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Gran Canaria, Canary Islands
I didn’t expect to see a large city in the Canary Islands; but with the islands being such popular tourist destinations, there were lots of large condos and hotels. The port terminal building was quite modern looking.
The four of us had booked a ship excursion for the day and our tour guide was Bernardino. He wasn’t particularly easy to understand and he enjoyed talking a lot, especially while he had us stand in the hot sun rather than in the cooler shaded areas he could have used.
Our first destination was to an extinct volcano, the Bandama Crater. Leaving the city, we could see how the mountains had to be cut out to allow for all the buildings; as well as the retaining walls.
The drive through the country side was very twisty going up and down hills constantly. It was switchback after switchback. We wished that we had realized it was going to be like that so that we could have taken some ginger pills to prevent car sickness. We came very close to getting sick on this excursion. The countryside we were passing was pretty, especially the tiered farms.
After many turns getting to the top of the volcano, we were able to get out and take photos of the crater and the view back down to the city.
On the way to our next stop, the town of Arucas, we passed by a lovely view of the ocean with a most unusual statue overlooking it.
After parking in Arucas, we walked to our first destination, the Church of San Juan Bautista. It is an imposing figure among the mostly small buildings within the small town.
The interior was pretty nice with some interesting statuary.
We then walked around the rather quaint town to a store where we could sample some candies and delicious liquors. There were pretty flowers all around and there were many Canary Island Palms, as would be expected. The Canary Palms are very expensive in south Florida and highly prized, since they grow slowly and are very hardy. It was interesting to see them growing wild in so many places.
We got back on the bus to go to our last stop of the tour, Teror. The main attraction in Teror is a cathedral where Gran Canarians go for a pilgrimage. The building wasn’t open, since Bernardino had changed the schedule around. We were supposed to be in Teror before going to the volcano. The architecture of the town was rather pleasing; but not worth a stop with the main attraction closed. In fact the best thing we saw there was a beautiful tree that the guide told us was an African Tulip Tree.
Unlike most tours, we were glad when this one ended, since there really wasn’t that much to see on the island and getting car sick makes for a bad excursion. I am sure that a visit to Gran Canaria to relax in the sun for a week would be much more enjoyable than a one day excursion.
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