Captain Kent’s Last Cruise (And Our First!)




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Up until 2005 we had long thought a cruise would be a terrific vacation but we were under the impression that cruising was for rich people and we were hardly rich. And so we didn’t really consider it seriously.

Our friends Chris and Sheila had been on a couple of cruises and they excitedly told us about one coming up, a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. You only had to pay one way fares to get to San Diego instead of round-trip. And repositioning cruises are bargain priced. So we said yes, we would join them on this adventure.

Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.
Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.

A repositioning cruise, in case you don’t know, is a cruise that does exactly as it it says. It is a one-time cruise that moves a ship from one route to another. The ship we would be taking, the Radiance of the Seas, had just finished up its winter gig plying the waters from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta. Now it was heading to Vancouver to start the summer season sailing the Alaska run.

Not only was this our first cruise, it was also one of the most memorable of the six we have taken so far. It is the only cruise for which we actually remember the name of one of the people serving our table. And it is the only cruise for which we remember the name of the captain.

Leaving San Diego
Leaving San Diego

We flew to San Diego and boarded the ship. Sailing out of the port, we passed a large aircraft carrier. Everything about cruising was new to us – the daily evening entertainment in the large theatre, the fabulous food, all included in the price, the entertainment at the various bars and clubs aboard the ship, the sheer size of the ship itself.

We pass an airraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.
We pass an aircraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.

Each ship has its own complement of singers, dancers and musicians to entertain. And the ship brings in special guest entertainers for most of the shows. Each ship’s entertainment is managed and hosted by a Cruise Director. Ours was a lively fellow named Gordon.

Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.
Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.

We had opted for fixed dinner seating with the same fellow passengers each night and so we got to know  few people from around the world – mostly American actually. But the crew on a cruise ship is made up of a cosmopolitan blend of people from all over the world. Our Assistant Waiter was a gal from Chile. Her name was Lily. That’s right – Lily from Chile! And she was an absolute delight. Super friendly, superior service, just an all around beautiful person. While the service is always excellent, Lily is the only person we remember by name. She just resonated with us in a special way.

Janis with Lily from Chile.
Janis with Lily from Chile.

One of the regular features on a Royal Caribbean cruise is an art auction. We attended and actually bought a couple of small pieces including a limited edition print of Charlie Brown and Snoopy signed by Charles Schulz.

Attending the art auction.
Attending the art auction.

Our first port-of-call was San Francisco and, as is typical of all cruises, we had the option of taking a packaged tour or of just leaving the ship and exploring on our own. Since the ship docked near Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided we would just wander around on our own. I went over our visit in some detail in a previous post.

Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco
Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco

At one of the bars one evening, we were entertained by the captain himself. Seems our captain, Kent Ringborn, a veteran mariner, came from a family of sailors, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. He joined the Swedish Merchant Marine Academy at fifteen. He received his mariners license at twenty-two. And after a stint with the Swedish Navy, he served on cargo vessels for a few years, becoming a captain before the age of thirty.

During his long career, he even captained an ice breaker for the Swedish National Maritime Administration. And in 1991 he started a career with the cruise ship industry, joining Royal Caribbean in 1995. He oversaw the building of the Radiance of the Seas and became her captain when she was launched in April 2001.

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Captain Kent Ringborn oversaw the construction of the Radiance of the Seas.

Although not formally trained in music, Captain Kent loved to sing and sometimes joined the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers performing a solo. He became known as the singing captain and over the years guests had asked for a souvenir of his performances. So he eventually recorded a CD with eighteen songs that included such classics as Sailing, Some Enchanted Evening, Edelweiss, Old Man River and Hallelujah. He changed the lyrics slightly on Welcome to My World to Welcome to Our World – the world of cruising.

We learned that this was Captain Kent’s last cruise as captain. He was retiring at the end of this voyage.

Captain Kent in the limelight.
Captain Kent in the limelight.

We continued on our cruise with a stop at Astoria, Oregon. The port there cannot accommodate cruise ships, so we anchored in the bay and reached shore by tender. There is not a lot to do in Astoria but we had seen the Astoria Column, its most striking landmark, on a previous road trip through Astoria and none of the other excursions interested us so we just wandered around the town for the day. Many nice little shops and restaurants. A pleasant town to visit.

Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.
Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.

Then on our way again to our next port-of-call, Victoria, B.C.. Our wives had secretly booked high tea at the Empress Hotel, a Victoria landmark and we had a great time.

High Tea at the Empress in Victoria
High Tea at the Empress in Victoria

Then on to Vancouver and home. As we went to our cabins for the last time, we found that Captain Kent had left a parting gift for every passenger, a copy of his CD as a souvenir. Below are the highlights of our trip put to the captain’s rendition of Welcome to Our World.  It was our first cruise and a most memorable one. And it had us hooked on cruising which is, dollar for dollar, one of the best vacations you can enjoy.

Check out my previous post, The Joy of Cruising, for a bit more on the cruising experience as well as a complete rundown on all the cruises we have taken to date.




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Port of Call: San Francisco




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San Francisco was the first port of call on the very first cruise Janis and I ever took, a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. We had driven through San Francisco before, taking one of the highways over the Golden Gate on our first trip to California together. But we never actually stopped to take in the city. This was our first time seeing some of its famous venues.

Our cruise ship, the Radiance of the Seas, seen as we walked up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower
Our cruise ship, the Radiance of the Seas, seen as we walked up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower

The city is famous for a number of tourist attractions and we had no idea which we would see on our stay. We were surprised to find that many of them were within walking distance of the cruise ship’s pier.  In fact, the pier was only about four and a half miles from the Golden Gate Bridge.

The closest landmark to our ship was Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. The tower was named after Lillie Hitchcock Coit, an eccentric woman who smoked cigars, wore pants and loved to frequent San Francisco’s gambling halls. She helped a short-handed fire crew on her way from school when she was fifteen and was made an honorary mascot of Knickerbocker Engine Co. No. 5.

Coit Tower
Coit Tower

When she passed away she left a third of her ample estate to the city she loved and the city built Coit Tower in her honour. The 210 foot tower was built in 1933. An apocryphal story says the art deco tower is shaped like the nozzle of a fireman’s hose because of Coit’s fondness for firefighters, but the resemblance is actually coincidental.

The Financial District seen from Coit Tower
The Financial District seen from the top of Coit Tower

We climbed to the top where you get an excellent view of the city. One of the sites we could see, even from the garden by the parking lot, was the famous zig-zag street, a short section of Lombard Street which has been used in movie chase scenes, notably The Love Bug (1968) and What’s Up Doc? (1972). The clip below has Herbie racing down the zig-zag street early in the scene.

It looked to be walking distance so we hoofed it. It is only a mile away, about a twenty minute walk. And it is worth seeing, a fascinating piece of history. The zig-zaggy part is only a block long and has eight switchbacks traversing to navigate the 27 degree slope.

At the foot of the switchbacks on Lombard Street
At the foot of the switchbacks on Lombard Street

A block further we came to Hyde Street where some of the famous cable cars ply up and down the hills. Naturally we had to take a ride. We went up the hill and soon found ourselves at another interesting venue, the power  house. Here you can learn about the history of the cable cars and see the huge wheels that move the cables in action.

Janis and I hop aboard a cable car
Janis and I hop aboard a cable car
The Power House, the core of the San Francisco cable car network
The Power House, the core of the San Francisco cable car network

We took a cable car back down the hill to Fisherman’s Wharf. We cjecked out the famous Ghirdelli Chocolate Factory at the west end of the strip and then headed east. We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants along the way.

Many of the restaurants along Fisherman's Wharf command an excellent view of the bay
Many of the restaurants along Fisherman’s Wharf command an excellent view of the bay. That’s Alcatraz in the left background.

After lunch we walked along the road taking in the sights when all of a sudden a piece of shrubbery jumped up and roared at me as I approached. I jumped about two feet in the air and my wife and friends had a good laugh. The shrubbery was the world famous Bushman.

David Johnson, the Bushman
David Johnson, the Bushman

Some humourless local businesses have tried to shut him down and the city has occasionally charged him with a misdemeanour (he always gets acquitted by a jury). We thought he was a hoot. We crossed the street to watch unobtrusively as he startled a few more tourists. A good laugh.

Further along we cam to Pier 39 where a lot of large floating platforms are home to a herd of sea lions. Noisy, smelly sea lions! Entertaining to watch.

Dozens of sea lions lounging around Pier 39
Dozens of sea lions lounging around Pier 39

After Fisherman’s Wharf we still had lots of time before our ship departed so we hoofed it to Chinatown which is just over a mile from there, a 25 minute walk. The old buildings of Chinatown are a sharp contrast to the soaring towers of the nearby Financial District.

Chinatown with the Transamerica Building in the background
Chinatown with the Transamerica Building in the background

On the way back to the ship we came across two more interesting sights. One was a Chinese restaurant featuring a huge mural of a jazz club. The Sun

The New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown
The New Sun Hong Kong Restaurant on the outskirts of Chinatown and its amazing mural

And we passed an area on Broadway that looked to be San Francisco’s sin city strip – adult book stores, strip bars, etc. featuring colorful names like Big Al’s, the Roaring 20s and the Hungry I Club.

Colorful strip bars and adult book stores along Broadway
Colorful strip bars and adult book stores along Broadway

We made it back to the ship for our late sailing and caught the vibrant evening skyline as we left. All in all, a fun time in San Francisco.

San Francisco at night from our cruise ship
San Francisco at night from our cruise ship. The Coit Tower and the Transamerica Building are prominent landmarks.

Here are a few more photos of our visit.

Janis and I at the foot of the zig-zag part of Lombard Street
Janis and I at the foot of the zig-zag part of Lombard Street
At the top of the zig-zag block
At the top of the zig-zag block, Coit Tower in the distance. The bridge in the distance is the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
A sea lion hoists itself onto a floating wharf at Pier 39
A sea lion hoists itself onto a floating wharf at Pier 39
More sea lions at Pier 39
More sea lions at Pier 39
Chinatown
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the largest Chinese community outside Asia
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Alcatraz, once a notorious prison, now a major tourist attraction. We did not see it on this trip. Maybe next time.

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A Boss Time in St. Thomas




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One of our ports of call on our January 2015 Caribbean cruise was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As with most cruises, various excursions were offered and while the ladies opted for an island tour, my brother-in-law Don and I decided to check out something called the BOSS adventure.

The town of St. Thomas in the U.S.Virgin Islands
The town of St. Thomas in the U.S.Virgin Islands

BOSS stands for Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter. It’s sort of a mini-submarine that you can use to check out marine life and the ocean floor in relatively shallow water.

We boarded a cabin cruiser called The Prince of Tides and headed out for a sheltered cove. Once there the submersibles were lowered by crane into the water – fourteen of them.

The Prince of Tides
The Prince of Tides

There were thirty or forty of us on this excursion so the little subs went out in three alternating groups. Each craft was tethered to a float. To mount it, a person would duck down under the water and poke his head up into a plastic bubble as he straddled the saddle of the scooter. The bubble was connected to a scuba tank which provided the rider with air.

Underwater view of a pod of scooters
Underwater view of a pod of scooters

Once in the saddle, the BOSS unit was lowered down into the water. For those of us remaining on the Prince of Tides, we watched as a group of floats moved off like a school of surface fish. The craft are powered by electric motors and are steerable.

A group of floats head away from our ship, exploring the sea bottom and the marine life.
A group of floats head away from our ship, exploring the sea bottom and the marine life.

Each pod of scooters was accompanied by a scuba diver. Those remaining on the ship snacked, enjoyed the music playing or jumped over to do some snorkeling while waiting their turn.

The waters here were swarming with yellowtail snappers. The captain gave one young lady a bag of food pellets to toss out them. The fish jumped and swarmed like ravenous wolves.

When our turn came, Don and I went down to explore on our BOSS craft. I had brought an underwater camera and filmed our little adventure, including being lowered down, roving along and exploring and later being hoisted up and exiting the craft.

The snorkeling was also fun. I’d only snorkeled once before and didn’t like it. That was in Puerto Vallarta and we were our in the open bay. Large swells and waves had me swallowing water repeatedly and I cut that experience short quickly. Here we were in a sheltered cove. The water was calm, smooth as glass, and the snorkeling was a lot of fun. So much to see underwater.

One of the many fish we saw on our adventure
One of the many colorful fish we saw on our adventure
Some brain coral on the ocean floor
Some brain coral on the ocean floor

After everyone had taken their turn with the submersibles, they were hauled back onto the deck. The video below shows them being hauled out and also gives you a good look at what these submersibles look like.

As we headed back to St. Thomas we passed a variety of resorts.

Resorts abound in St. Thomas
Resorts abound in St. Thomas

And we passed the three cruise ships in port. St. Thomas is a popular port-of-call. Although we were on the Ruby Princess and have never cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines, their ships are among the most colorful, with huge murals on their bows.

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Colorful mural of a mermaid on the Norwegian Getaway.

Don and I had a boss time in St. Thomas.

I’ll leave you with a few additional photos from the trip.

A BOSS submersible being hauled out of the water
A BOSS submersible being lowered into the water
Riding along on our underwater scooters
Riding along on our underwater scooters with our scuba diving guide
The ocean floor and a colorful fish
The ocean floor and a colorful fish
This catamaran loaded with tourists also entered our sheltered cove
This catamaran loaded with tourists also entered our sheltered cove
Three cruise ships in port
Three cruise ships in port
A popular mode of transportation in St. Thomas
A popular mode of transportation in St. Thomas – open air taxis
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Malaga: A Tale of Two Castles




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The fourth stop on our 2009 cruise was Malaga, a small Spanish city on the Mediterranean 134 kilometres from Gibraltar. As we did in Cadiz, we decided to explore Malaga on our own rather than take an organized excursion. The city is a short hop by bus from the port.

Malaga is an ancient city with a history spanning 2800 years. It was founded by the Phoenicians in 770 BC.  Like Cadiz, it is also within the autonomous region of Andalusia.


Upon leaving the ship, we took a short bus ride to the city. We were dropped off at the Paseo Parque, a broad boulevard spanned by parks on both sides. These parks are lush with greenery and the occasional statue and fountain.

Statues, fountains and lush foliage abound in the Paseo Parque.
Statues, fountains and lush foliage abound in the Paseo Parque.

We wandered though the Parque de Malaga to a road that took us to the first of two castles, the Alcazaba. The road is flanked by a steep retaining wall which is dotted with little pigeon holes.

The roadway to the Alcazaba. Note the pigeonholes.
The roadway to the Alcazaba. Note the pigeon holes.
A pigeon in a pigeon hole.
A pigeon in a pigeon hole.

Tha Alcazaba is an old fortress built by the Moors from 756 to 780 AD and extensively rebuilt by the Hammudid Dynasty in the 11th Century. It has features of Roman, Moorish and Renaissance architecture.

The Alcazaba, magnificent Moorish fortress.
The Alcazaba, magnificent Moorish fortress.

The roadway took us to an elevator which took us up into the fortress. Inside we found gardens and fountains as well as displays of crockery and other artifacts. There were also stables and drinking troughs for horses. We enjoyed walking around the battlements which command an excellent view of the city.

Some of the gardens inside the Alcazaba
Some of the gardens inside the Alcazaba

While we were there, a teacher dressed as a knight explained the history of the Alcazaba to his students. A colourful and interesting outing for the kids.

A teacher engages his class in a history lesson at the Alcazaba.
A teacher engages his class in a history lesson at the Alcazaba.

But the Alcazaba is just one of two Moorish castles in Malaga. The other is a short walk up the hill – the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The road is fairly steep and we passed fields of cacti.

Lots of cacti grow wild along the slopes of the Gibralfaro hill
Lots of cacti grow wild along the slopes of the Gibralfaro hill

Along the way we got a good view of the Malagueta, Malaga’s bull fighting arena. This 14,000 seat stadium was built in 1874 and bull fights are still staged every year from April through September.

The Malgueta, Malaga's bull fighting arena. Fights run from April through September
The Malgueta, Malaga’s bull fighting arena. Fights run from April through September

Arriving at the Castillo de Gibralfaro, you enter through a museum showing military uniforms through the ages as well as a model of the two fortresses. There is a similar model at the lower fort. from there you can wander at your leisure. The fort is a large one and offers excellent views of the city from its ramparts. We circumnavigated the parapet as we had done with the lower fort.

Janis, Chris and Sheila on the ramparts of the Castillo de Gibrilfaro
Janis, Chris and Sheila on the ramparts of the Castillo de Gibralfaro

At one point there was a sort of small dungeon below the walkway, with a grate above it. My wife and her friend Sheila went to check out the place while I stayed above with the camera. When they entered I shouted down to them, “Look up! Look waaaaaay up!” Someone nearby quickly added, “And I’ll call Rusty!” and we all had a good laugh. A fellow Canadian! The lines come from a popular kid’s show called The Friendly Giant.

Look up! Look waaaaay up!
Look up! Look waaaaay up!

We explore some more of the castle and then made our way back to the street level and a beautiful garden park called the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso.

The Jardines de xxx seen from the Castillo de Gibrilfaro
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso seen from the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The Paseo Parque boulevard runs behind it and all along that road is a series of connected parks, all lush with foliage. The building beside the gardens is Malaga City Hall.

We wandered back to downtown through the park flanking the Paseo Parque and stopped at a restaurant for some paella. Then we wandered through part of the downtown with its marble pedestrian ways and beautiful buildings. The city looked so clean and bright. A gorgeous city.

Janis and I enjoy paella at a sidewalk restaurant.
Janis and I enjoy paella at a sidewalk restaurant.

Along the way we came across some street entertainers. They were living statues. They were dressed in gray costumes and stood absolutely still like statues. If you put a coin in a hat, the statues came alive and posed for pictures and gave you a souvenir coloured pebble.

One of the living statues. Check out the video below.
One of the living statues. Check out the video below.

We wandered back towards the ship and passed a bus, half buried in the sidewalk. It was an ad, an unusual billboard for a movie, Fuga de Cerebros, a romantic comedy about young college students. It was panned by critics but the biggest drawing Spanish movie of the year, later released in English as Brain Drain.

The unusual ad prop for the movie Fuga de Cereberos, top grossing Spanish movie of 2009.
The unusual ad prop for the movie Fuga de Cereberos, top grossing Spanish movie of 2009.

We loved Malaga. It is a beautiful city with two great castles to explore, lush green parks, great restaurants an a colourful and entertaining downtown. Well worth a visit.

We took so many pictures you’ll find a separate photo gallery linked below. Or just keep scrolling if you’re on the home page.



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Photo Gallery: Malaga




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Here are a few additional photos of our visit to Malaga, Spain.

Alongside the Alcazabar
Alongside the Alcazaba. The Castillo de Gibralfaro is at the top of the hill ahead.
Looking up at part of the Alcazabar
Looking up at part of the Alcazaba
Janis in the Alcazabar
Janis by a gate in the Alcazaba
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Along the ramparts of the Alcazaba, the city of Malaga in the background.
Gardens at the Alcazaba
Gardens at the Alcazaba
There are actually two layers of walls at the Alcazaba - a fort within a fort so to speak. The outer wall goes our straight ahead, the inner wall off to the right.
There are actually two layers of walls at the Alcazaba – a fort within a fort so to speak. The outer wall goes our straight ahead, the inner wall off to the right.
The Cathedral of Malaga seen from the Alcazaba
The Cathedral of Malaga seen from the Alcazaba
Another view of the Cathedral of Malaga
Another view of the Cathedral of Malaga
Watering hole for the horses of yore
Watering hole for the horses of yore
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Arabic ceiling in one of the rooms in the palace.
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Looking east from the Alcazaba. You can see the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso just below and the Maragueta bull fighting arena behind it.
Looking east. The fortress is on a hillside and follows the terrain up and down.
Looking east. The fortress is on a hillside and follows the terrain up and down. That’s our friend Chris striking a pose.
Leaving the Alcazaba behind as we head up hill
Leaving the Alcazaba behind as we head up hill
As we left the Alcazaba and headed up the hill, we saw this amazing fig tree.
As we left the Alcazaba and headed up the hill, we saw this amazing tree.
The Alcazaba is far below us now
The Alcazaba is far below us now
The Port of Malaga
The Port of Malaga
The Malagueta, Malaga's bull fighting ring. Fights are held from April to September.
The Malagueta, Malaga’s bull fighting ring. Fights are held from April to September.
You can get bull fighting posters in some of the gift shops.
You can get bull fighting posters in some of the gift shops.
We find a cannon at the entry to the Castillo.
We find a cannon at the entry to the Castillo.
One of the displays at the museum before you go into the castle.
One of the displays at the museum before you go into the castle.
Along the castle walls
Along the castle walls
Janis on guard duty!
Janis on guard duty!
Looking out on the harbour from the guard hut
Looking out on the harbour from the guard hut
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Our ship, the Navigator of the Seas is the one you see head on at the left. Three cruise ships were in port that day.
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We quite liked this townhouse complex with a rooftop pool that we saw looking down from the ramparts.
The Alcazaba below us
The Alcazaba below us
Walking around the ramparts of the Castillo de Gabrilfaro
Walking around the ramparts of the Castillo de Gabrilfaro
After going down and around the ramparts, we head back up the other side
After going down and around the ramparts, we head back up the other side
Much of the interior of the fortress grounds are covered with grass and trees.
Much of the interior of the fortress grounds are covered with grass and trees.
Looking back at where we just came from.
Looking back at where we just came from.
The city seen through a notch in the battlements
The city seen through a notch in the battlements
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Almost back to our starting point in circumnavigating the Castillo.
Back at street level we see the Alcazaba again
Back at street level we see the Alcazaba again
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso
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A statue in the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso. This statue is called El Biznaguero. can’t find a translation for that.

 

We headed west along the Paseo Parque to the downtown.
We headed west along the Paseo Parque to the downtown.
The streets here are closed to traffic and seem to be made of polished marble.
The streets here are closed to traffic and seem to be made of polished marble.
The architecture of Malaga is gorgeous.
The architecture of Malaga is gorgeous.
Some very old buildings but kept in excellent shape.
Some very old buildings but kept in excellent shape.
Janis and one of the living statues.
Janis and one of the living statues.
Chris and one of the living statues
Chris and one of the living statues
She's got on a lot of make-up to make her face look as if made of stone.
She’s got on a lot of make-up to make her face look as if made of stone.
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A sidewalk restaurant in Malaga
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Much of this downtown area is pedestrian only.
As we headed back to the ship , we saw these horse-drawn carriages. A nice way to get around parts of Malaga.
As we headed back to the ship , we saw these horse-drawn carriages. A nice way to get around parts of Malaga.

 




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Old Lisbon




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The second port of call on our 2009 trans-Atlantic cruise was Lisbon, Portugal. While had taken a shore excursion on our first stop, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we opted to check out Lisbon on our own. Upon disembarking, there were free shuttle buses to transport us to the Baixa and surrounding districts which make up the historic centre of Lisbon, much like the 20 arrondissements make up the historic centre of Paris.

Lisbon has a lot of history behind it. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries. The bus dropped us off at outside the Rua Augusta Arch – the gateway to Old Lisbon.

The Rua Augusta Arch was built to comemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake.
The Rua Augusta Arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake. The 100 foot high arch is surmounted by a 23 foot tall statue.

We passed through the arch into the downtown area, a warren of narrow streets with shops and apartments, as well as large plazas. The area was bustling with activity. It is largely a pedestrian only area though there are trams running up and down the narrow streets and some cars as well. Lisbon also has three funicular trams as the city lies on a hillside sloping down towards the Tagus River.

Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the arch.
Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the Rua Augusta Arch.

We noticed a large fortress off to our right so we decided to check it out. The Castelo de Sao Jorge is in the Alfama district, one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and the only one not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. To get there we strolled up some narrow streets, passing the Lisbon Cathedral along the way.

Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral

The castle itself is Moorish and was captured by Christian forces in 1147 during the Second Crusade. Lisbon became the capital in 1255 and the castle was renovated and extended over the next hundred and twenty -five years.

The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.

We spent a good while there exploring the castle and walking along the battlements which command a panoramic view of Lisbon.

On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.
On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.

Then we walked back towards the central part of old Lisbon. Along the way we watched as the trams made their way through the narrow thoroughfares.

Up the hill from the Rua Augusta Arch we came across the San Justa Lift. The Baixa district is flanked by steep hillsides, one leading to the Castelo on the right and another to the Bairro Alto on the left. The San Justa Lift takes passengers from the Baixa up to the Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). Construction was started in 1900 and completed in 1902. Originally powered by steam, it converted to electricity in 1907. It stands 45 metres tall (about seven stories) We did not go up the elevator but did take a funicular later in the day.

The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.
The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.

Further up the road from the lift is the impressive Rossio Square. The square features a large fountain and a statue of Pedro IV (Peter the Fourth). During the Spanish Inquisition, the square was the site of public executions, the notorious auto-da-fé which saw its victims burned at the stake.

Fountain in Rossio Square
Fountain in Rossio Square. You can see some of the inlaid Portuguese pavement below the fountain.

But its most striking feature is the Portuguese pavement. Portuguese pavement is a surface created with inlaid stones of different colours to form intricate patterns.  The Rossio plaza is particularly striking because of the optical illusion it gives of waves and motion. You can see in the video below that my camera did not like it much.


We wandered further up the hill and came across Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe (seems every major city has one!) And across the plaza from the Hard Rock we found the Ascensor da Gloria, one of three funicular trams in the city. This inclined railway dates from 1885. We hopped the tram and later walked back down to the Baixa.

Walking back down we passed a little shop whose door was flanked by two carved wooden figures. These figures seem to be popular in Lisbon. We saw quite a few of them at various places.

Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this establishment.
Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this restaurant. Such figures are popular in Lisbon.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto. You can see the Castelo de Sao Jorge in the distance.

All in all we had a terrific time in Lisbon. A lovely city with many interesting sights.



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Photo Gallery: Lisbon




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to Lisbon.

At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The battlements of the Castelo.
The battlements of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
Another turret.
Another turret.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
The battlements had narrow slits fro snipers to shoot through.
The battlements had narrow slits for snipers to shoot through.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Lisbon's Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
How sixties! The Hippie cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
How Sixties! The Hippie Cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Another carved figure.
Another carved figure, this one outside a bakery.
Lots of sidewalk cafes in Lisbon.
Lots of sidewalk cafés in Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.




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The Cats of Cadiz




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Cadiz, Spain was the third port of call on the trans-Atlantic cruise we took in April 2009. It lies along the coast of Spain  on the Atlantic about 150 kilometres from Gibraltar (119 km via the inland route), not quite two thirds of the way from Portugal to Gibraltar. It lies on a narrow spit of land, a peninsula, jutting out from the mainland to enclose a large bay, though it looks more like an island connected by a causeway to the mainland.

The city is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. It is the capital of the province of Cadiz and is part of the autonomous region of Andalusia.

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The Port of Cadiz

The port is on the sheltered side of the peninsula on the North end. This is adjacent to the Old Town, the walled part of the city. This part has preserved much of its ancient heritage and differs significantly from the more modern city outside the walls with its narrow cobblestone streets and small shops. But even in the modern part of the city, all buildings are fairly small as Cadiz sits on a sandspit, making the sinking of the foundations necessary to support highrises prohibitively expensive.

As with all ports of call, we had an option to take one of several excursions, including one to the inland city of Seville, but we opted to explore on our own. And we are glad we did. The Old Town is not very large and you can explore much of it during a stopover.

The Old Town of Cadiz is a walled city. Beyond the wall is modern Cadiz with wide tree-lined streets and shopping plazas. All the beaches are in this area.
The Old Town of Cadiz is a walled city. Beyond the wall is modern Cadiz with wide tree-lined streets and shopping plazas. All the beaches are in this area. This photo taken from the modern city side looking towards the Old Town. There are few vehicles in Old Town as the streets are narrow.

We left the port and followed the road along the wall separating it from the newer part of the city to the side  of the peninsula facing the open sea.

The short walk across the peninsula to the ocean took us to a steep sea wall with walk along the top. Part of the sea wall was overgrown with shrubs and we spotted cardboard boxes and other bits of debris here and there. We were surprised to find that these were home to a couple of dozen feral cats.

This fellow came along and fed the cats and replenished their water bowls.
This fellow came along and fed the cats and replenished their water bowls. The modern part of Cadiz can be seen in the background beyond the fortress.

As we watched the cats, they started running up the wall towards the ledge at the top. A man was approaching and calling to them. As they circled around him, he opened a couple of shopping bags and pulled out tins of cat food which he opened. He spread the cat food out in glops along the ledge and the cats had a feast. He also replenished their water bowls.

This is one of the pleasures of exploring a port of call on your own. You sometimes run into the unexpected and so it was with the cats. After the man finished feeding them, he cleaned up and headed off and so did we.

It wasn’t long before we came to a Roman theatre. This archaeological work was not discovered until 1980 when a warehouse fire destroyed the buildings sitting on top of it. The theatre, the second largest Roman theatre in the world after the one in Pompeii, is still being restored to this day. Roman theatres are different than Roman amphitheatres. Roman theatres are semi-circles and much smaller than the amphitheatres which are full circles enclosing a large area where sporting events and games were held. The Coliseum in Rome is an amphitheatre.

Roman theatre in Cadiz
Roman theatre in Cadiz
This Roman theatre is the second largest in the world after the one in Pompeii. It was not discovered until 1980.
This Roman theatre is the second largest in the world after the one in Pompeii. It was not discovered until 1980.

We asked Anna, the woman at the ticket booth, about the cats and she said they were much revered in Cadiz because they kept the rats out. People often feed them she said.

After checking out the theatre we decided to check out the white tower we saw behind it. That turned out to be part of Cadiz Cathedral.

One of the two towers of the Cadiz Cathedral.
One of the two towers of the Cadiz Cathedral.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1722 and continued for 116 years. It started out in the baroque style, but because it took so long to build, there are also rococo and neoclassical elements. The building was undergoing extensive restoration and repair work when we were there but still open to the public.

The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz

It is beautiful inside with the ornate woodwork and statuary you’ll find in most Roman Catholic cathedrals. It also had a magnificent pipe organ and below the cathedral was a catacomb with numerous plaques and tombs.

The pipe organ at Cadiz Cathedral
The pipe organ at Cadiz Cathedral
Some of the tombs in the catacomb below the cathedral.
Some of the tombs in the catacomb below the cathedral.

We wanted to pick up a few odds and sods before returning to the ship so we crossed through the gates in the huge stone wall surrounding the Old Town and made our way along some tree lined boulevards to a shopping mall. From there we walked back to the ship along the port road, passing by an extensive rail yard as we went. Spain has an excellent railroad system which we would use later when we travelled from Barcelona to Figueres. But that is a story for a later blog post!

The rail yard of Cadiz, part of Spain's efficient rail network.
The rail yard of Cadiz, part of Spain’s efficient rail network.

All in all, we enjoyed our visit to Cadiz, a charming little city by the sea.

Additional Photos




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Photo Gallery: Cadiz




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Here are some additional pictures of our visit to Cadiz in 2009.

Hungry cats find a friend.
Hungry cats find a friend.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall.
Cats feasting atop the sea wall. That’s the Atlantic Ocean in the background.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
Excavation continues at the Roman theatre.
The Cathedral of Cadiz
The Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the cathedral.
The pulpit inside the cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz
Inside the Cathedral of Cadiz. It is still an active church with regular services.
The pipe organ
The pipe organ
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
Steel mesh netting protects the people below from falling debris as the church was undergoing renovations.
In the catacomb below the cathedral
In the catacomb below the cathedral
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
One of the narrow streets in the Old Town of Cadiz
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
The fortress wall separating the Old Town from modern Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Tree lined street in the modern part of Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Janis and our friends Chris and Sheila in front of a gorgeous planter in Cadiz.
Our cruise ship in the distance.
Our cruise ship in the distance. Beyond is the mainland of Spain.




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Southeast Asia Cruise – January 2016




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On January 22, 2016, my wife and I went on our sixth cruise – a cruise promoted as a taste of Southeast Asia. We had never been in Southeast Asia before, except for a brief stopover at the Kuala Lumpur airport on our way to Perth, Australia. But it has always been a popular destination for Canadians with many visiting Thailand, Viet Nam, Singapore and Malaysia among others. So it was another part of the world that needed exploring.

I’ve already posted about all our ports of call as well as about our stay in Singapore. So this post is about the cruise itself. Cruises are a destination in themselves, even if you never get off the ship. In 2009 we took a fourteen day trans-Atlantic cruise and were at sea for seven straight days, as long as this entire cruise. There is always something to do and to keep you entertained.

The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.
The Mariner of the Seas at Anchor in Patong bay.

This cruise was with Royal Caribbean aboard the Mariner of the Seas, a huge ship, one of five Voyager class ships. We have cruised on its sister ship, the Navigator of the Seas twice before. But each has its own distinctive style with unique art work for each.

Sculpted fruit and ice are traditional on first days to welcome guests aboard.
Sculpted fruit and ice are traditional on first days to welcome guests aboard.

We had pre-boarded online so everything went smoothly when we arrived to board. Right away we went for a meal and everything was decked out to welcome people, and to hail the upcoming Chinese New Year.

The gymnasium on the Mariner of the Seas.
The gymnasium on the Mariner of the Seas.

The time between boarding and setting sail is a great time to explore the ship and find out where everything is. It’s also a great time to check out the many facilities which are all open for inspection. We checked out the health and beauty salons where you can get your hair done or have a massage or work out in the extensive gym. We entered a draw to win a spa treatment. At the draw my wife won a $100 coupon towards a treatment and she used it later to get a stone massage.

You can get a stone massage on the ship.
You can get a stone massage on the ship.

We also confirmed our dinner reservations and at 5:30 went for dinner where we met our dining companions for the trip, a couple from Melbourne and their 13 year old son. We also met our wait staff.

Our dinner companions, Ned, Annie and Josh, were always fun to talk to and we spent an evening together at the karaoke bar as well.

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Our dinner companions and our wait staff. Left to right: Myself, Janis, Assistant Waiter Albert, Josh, Waiter Rodriguez, Ned, Head waiter Jamal, Annie

As with all cruises, there is entertainment every night in the theatre. The MC is usually the Cruise Director for the trip. Ours was a fellow from mainland China who went by the name of Fang. He started by introducing some interesting facts and figures about the makeup of guests and crew. There were guests from 53 different countries and crew from 43.

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Looking down at some of the swimming pools and hot tubs on the ship.

He started by saying, “There is one guest from each of the following countries…” and listed them by name – around twenty or so. Then he went on to list the countries which had two guests aboard. And then three and so on. The top five were Singapore and the United States with about 200 guests from each, Great Britain with around 500, China with about 500 and Australia with over a thousand people. Total was around 3300.

The number of guests and crew from mainland China is a good indication of how much China has changed since the rigid days of Maoism. Nobody could leave the country then. It was a veritable prison. And those caught flirting with capitalism could be shot. But here were 500 guests from China enjoying the good life.

Many cruise ships have large theatres and provide nightly shows.
Many cruise ships have large theatres and provide nightly shows.

The entertainment on this trip was below par compared to the other Royal Caribbean cruises we have been on. One of the downsides was the the usual complement of staff singers and dancers boarded the same time as us and so did not make an appearance until the last day after they had done extensive rehearsing. But the nightly talent was lack lustre as well. We enjoyed some of it, but it lacked flare.

 

There were light flares going out from the top of the stage that made it look like the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty.
There were light flares going out from the top of the stage that made it look like the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty.

The first night featured an Australian male trio called La Forza. They were pretty good – sort of like the Three Tenors but they did more pop than classical music. The second night featured violinist Venus Tsai who was a finalist in China’s Got Talent. We weren’t particularly interested but popped in at the back of the audience for a few minutes part way through to check her out. She was very talented, but the audio mix was terrible. She was drowned out by the ship’s orchestra. But people who went enjoyed her very much.

The third night had Australian comedy magician Duck Cameron. I’m a huge fan of magic and looked forward to the show, but we were both disappointed. The magic was ordinary, nothing we hadn’t seen before. And the comedy was lame. The fourth night featured Australian singer Tamara Guo. She had a good voice but her presentation was horrible. She said she was suffering from a sore throat and was constantly apologizing for it. And she spent more than half of the act telling her life story instead of singing. People were walking out of the show in droves.

I didn’t save the calendars for days 5 and 6, but I believe there was no show on the fifth because we were in Phuket for two days so people could seek entertainment ashore if they wanted. Day six was an Australian comedian who was so-so. And day seven featured a production extravaganza with the ship’s singers and dancer called Center Stage. The Royal Caribbean cruises always have a very talented cast of singers and dancers and this show was no exception. An enjoyable evening.

These clowns were among the entertainers in the ice show - Ice Under the Big Top.
These clowns were among the entertainers in the ice show – Ice Under the Big Top.

But I must put in a word for the very best show on the ship. The Mariner of the Seas, like her sister ships, has an ice rink. Guests could skate during designated hours, but there was also an ice show. There were several showings and we went on the afternoon of the last day. And it was fabulous. The show, called Big Top on Ice, had a circus theme. Brilliantly coloured costumes and fabulous skating.

Some excellent skating in the ice show.
Some excellent skating in the ice show.

It so happened that Australia Day happened during the cruise and with such a large contingent of Aussies aboard, the ship celebrated as well.

Fruit carved for Australia Day!
Fruit and decorations for Australia Day!

On the last day we also took advantage of an opportunity to tour the ship’s galley for a nominal charge. This tour included a complementary Royal Caribbean Recipe Book and a champagne lunch. The book alone was worth the money.  And the behind-the-scenes look at the galley was very interesting. They churn out a lot of meals with three decks of fine dining restaurant as well as an almost constantly open serve yourself buffet style restaurant, the Windjammer.

One of the chefs preparing chickens for dinner.
One of the chefs preparing chickens for dinner.

Of course, there were a lot of amenities we did not take advantage of – basketball courts, miniature golf, rock climbing and so on. But we did use the swimming pools a lot.

Miniature golf was one of many amenities on the Mariner of the Seas.
Miniature golf was one of many amenities on the Mariner of the Seas.

One of the great pleasure of each Royal Caribbean cruise is the singing waiters and chefs. Once and sometimes twice on a cruise, the wait staff will march around the room waving white towels as they congregate on the staircase. Then the head of the dining department gives a little speech praising their work and they then sing for their guests. We had our wait staff entertain us twice this cruise and it was great fun.

I’ve written about our ports of call already but here are links to my blog posts on each in case you missed them. Note that some have links at the end of the articles to additional photo galleries.

All in all, this was a interesting and exciting cruise. Not the best cruise we have been on, but memorable all the same.




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