Friday, March 13, 2009

Grand World Voyage Part 11: Winding Down

This was my first time in Lisbon. The feel of the city was very nice, but I mostly did not find it that interesting. Perhaps that's because I know very little about Portugal. One thing that did impress me as we drove through the city was the tile work that was everywhere. Most of it was on the facades of buildings. The most memorable other place is one place where a bridge crossed over the road we were on and the retaining walls on either side of the road were done in bright rainbow stripes of color.

Our excursion went out to Estoril, a beach resort. We went for a short walk on the beach where w
e found some tide pools and came home with sea urchin shells. Along the way we stopped to see the monument to the Portuguese explorers, which was really beautiful. The monument is the bow section of a ship, with statues of the explorers on one side and statues of the people who financed the expeditions on the other. There is a huge area in front of the monument done in inlaid granite, that has a map of the world and many other symbols. This was an amazing work of art. I also found the series of old forts along the ocean very interesting.

The island of Madeira, famous for the fortified wine of the same name, was a beautiful and pleasant surprise. One friend lost her heart to the island. I might have, also, except that I had already lost mine to Malta. The island is very mountainous, and as you drive through the countryside, you see many terraced fields, with stone retaining walls. These were apparently built by prisoners (unfortunately I don't remember the whole story our guide told). One of the great sights is the airport, because when they needed a longer runway, they built it out over the ocean on concrete pylons, reminiscent of our freeway bridges at home.

Madeira is also famous for their handmade lace, which is really
embroidered cut work, and which is absolutely beautiful. We visited a lace factory, where we saw how they transfer the patterns, the rooms full of patterns, and the packaging process. The handwork is actually done at home, so we were not able to observe that. The ladies who do the work are highly skilled at fine embroidery.

Another great visit was
to a large market, where we saw lots of fish and produce. There was one very long black fish that is endemic to the region. It looked ugly, but we had it for lunch, and it was one of the best fish I'd ever tasted. I don't remember its name. The produce was very interesting. We tried the fruit of a philodendron, which was very sweet and had a wonderful flavor. I never realized that philodendrons had any edible parts.

We went to the main place where the Madeira wine is made, in the city of Funchal, and got to taste the different
varieties, the difference being the age of the wine. The one aged longest was the one that tasted best. Another stop was a place that made everything imaginable of rattan. Once again, the variety was astonishing, and the handwork was flawless.

The island is very beautiful, with many spectacular views. This was a place very well worth seeing.

Our next-to-last port before disembarking was Bermuda. We were scheduled to dock at King's Wharf, but ended up anchored because all dock space (there's not much of it) was taken both at King's Wharf and Hamilton. We therefore had to use tenders to get ashore, and Bermuda requires that we use theirs. That created quite a zoo, even though their boats held a lot of people. We ended up beyond the cutoff point for the first tender, and by the time we finally got to the island, we realized that we didn't have time to walk to the botanical garden, as planned. So we turned around and got right back on the tender. We were sorry that we could not see the botanical garden again, as we had very much enjoyed it on our first trip there. Fortunately for us, we had been to Hamilton before, when we did have time to explore more thoroughly (That was a week-long Bermuda cruise on Celebrity). And the scenery going to and from the ship was beautiful, and the ride pleasant.

Our final port was New York City, where a great many passengers disembarked. Tina & I spent our time walking, because we wanted to buy gifts for our dining room stewards. We ended up walking about five miles that day, but were successful in our shopping. Our walk took us through Times Square, which was fun, knowing that we were in the place we watch every New Year's Eve. The electronic advertising was overwhelming, both in size and in quantity. This was a sad time for us, because we knew there would be only one more full day before we had to disembark and this incredible journey would come to an end.

The grand world voyage truly was an incredible journey, both in terms of the places we went, and the people we met. The ship had been our home for almost four months, and we came to love the crew, the new friends we had met, and the life style. The journey whetted my appetite for returning to many of the places we visited.

I've talked to a number of people who said they would get claustrophobic or bored spending so long on a ship, and truthfully, in the beginning I didn't know how well I'd handle it. The longest I'd been on a cruise ship prior to this was 18 days. What I learned is that we are adaptable, the ship is quite large, and if you have interest in any of the many activities, there is always something to do. Many on the ship did not like the eight days at sea between Panama and Nuku Hiva. I enjoyed being able to stand on deck and watch the flying fish, and participate in the many activities. It is also good to have sea days because too many port days close together take a lot of energy and make it difficult to fully appreciate the places visited, when they are too close together.

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