I went on a cruise as a very last minute thing with a friend of mine who had completed his degree and was in need of an escape. The rate was very reasonable on the whole, but it was a compromise on the original plan we had, which was to take a three week trip across the states, which would have cost a small fortune. That said, I’ve never been on a cruise before and was assured that it would be suitable. Perhaps that was a bit of a stretch, and its fair to say that for two lads, it probably wasn’t the best of options for us. It wasn’t a complete loss though, for we did see some interesting places on the stops we made.
We joined the trip at Palma, Majorca where we were destined to spend the day before we pulled out of harbour at night. My instinct was to unpack, take a look around and then get back off the boat and explore. We had to be back for our safety briefing at a certain time, and there was a free bar.
View of Gibraltar’s only International Airport, from ‘Jock’s Balcony’
We got to Gibraltar on day 3, and joined an island tour for the morning. For such a small island it has a lot of history, more for its strategic value than anything else. It has a small airport, and the tunnels that were used during World War Two are still used in some places to house fuel and stockpiles of ordnance for the Royal Navy, so that they can stock up before they head off to the Middle East. Our guide for the tunnels was a German former soldier, and I think our bus driver had been in one of the Highland Regiments in his youth, but later a policeman on the island. Europa Point offered a great view of the sea, and with its mix of Spanish colonial buildings, and its Moorish castle, Gibraltar had a character all of its own for such a small place. We saw some of the famous Barbary Apes, but no one wanted to get near them. I think the warnings of them being aggressive little thieves was probably what did it.
Tangier Museum Courtyard
Our next stop was Tangier, Morocco. This was another guided tour of the city, and involved a trip around the new city, up into the hills and then back to the old Medina. Once again, it was a port city steeped in history, and it was a fascinating trip. My initial thoughts about what to expect in Tangier conjured up imagery of James Bond and Jason Bourne, chasing international assassins along the close rooftops, and narrow stucco walls of the Old City. The old Colonial Fort near the port with its iconic parapets and old canons also gave pause to days of old. Earlier than that, I wasn’t surprised to hear that it had changed ownership many times. Since the Carthaginians founded it, the Romans, Portuguese and English have laid claim to it, before it became a French colony with the rest of Morocco, and famous residents have included writers of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, and the playwright Tennessee Williams.
The markets of Tangier were the only thing I disliked, as it was quite clearly a tourist trap, and could be a little intimidating at times, but there was no denying from an imagery perspective, it was definitely exotic and thought provoking.
We didn’t leave the ship on the next day, because from the port of Granada, there really wasn’t much to see. Our excursion options were a little bit overpriced, most notably, the excursion to see Alhambra Palace, so we had more resolve to go exploring the next day, where our destination was Cartagena. Not to be confused with the city in Colombia, Cartagena was another important port colony of the Roman Empire, and its apparent in its architecture. Dominating the skyline is the castle that looks down upon the rest of the town, an ancient amphitheater just below, undergoing restoration, and its adjoining museum.
The mix of colonial state buildings along the main thoroughfare, and the shaded and secluded backstreets, gave Cartagena a character all of its own. The young lady at the tourist information booth was really very kind to us, explaining that you can pay to get inside the castle, but its really not worth it, and showed us a route up to the top and back down, which was very kind of her.
Anti-Slavery Monument in the Port of Cartagena, Spain
There was a market at the harbour but the wind was picking up at that point, I don’t think either of us were looking forward to getting on the boat, but we did, although we booked a last minute excursion for our stop the next day in Valencia, because we were determined to not stay on the boat on our last but one day.
Valencia gave us beautiful weather for our last but one day. We were told it was Spain’s third largest city, and was home for a number of years to the Spanish Grand Prix. We took a trip to its Biodome, which is like a natural habit zoo, and contained all sorts of species of African flora and fauna. On the way we got to experience the city by coach, which is beautiful. Some of the buildings, the old, but especially the new were true marvels of architecture, including one large building resembling a fish.
Very large and looks like a giant fish!
The Biodome Park itself was fairly large, so my mate and I decided to ditch the guided tour and follow the map ourselves to save being led around in a long line with everyone else.
It was our last day so we opted to eat out before we go back on the ship, so we treated ourselves to some traditional paella.
The rest of the cruise involved a heavy last night to make the most of it. We had met a few people over the course of our time, and we said our goodbyes before bed, but we had a really early start in the morning to get back to the airport for the flight home, so we had to make sure our cases were packed and ready to be unloaded when we docked back in Palma.
On the whole, the cruise format allowed us to experience many different places in a short amount of time, keeping it fresh, but the cruise and being on the ship itself, felt very claustrophobic. We changed locations overnight mostly, with a few exceptions, and spent a lot of time in the cabin or in the bar, because there was little else to do. There were some great sunsets and sunrises to see at sea though, and one night there was a thunderstorm which we were right in the middle of, and out on deck, you could see flashes and forks across the night sky for miles in any direction.
The staff on the cruise liner were excellent I must say, and we met some interesting characters. The convenience of everything was appealing, but on the whole, I don’t think I’ll be booking another cruise anytime soon.