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Thursday, 30 August 2012

Almería and Ibiza, Spain

Welcome back to my blog. Today I would like to show you two Spanish ports we visited only once, Almería and Ibiza. I took a shore excursion in Ibiza and spent a few hours in Almería on my own; with only one visit it is difficult to fully explore a port but you can at least get a flavour of the place.


Above: The view of Almería from the Ryndam.

Almería is a city in Andalusia, Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of the province of the same name. The name is said to derive from the Arabic term مرأى Al-Mara'ā, which means 'The Watchtower'.

Above: A typical street in one of the poorer neighbourhoods, near the top of the town.

The city was founded by Calipha Abd-ar-Rahman III of Cordova in 955 AD. It was to be a principal harbour in his extensive domain to strengthen his Mediterranean defences.

Above: A panoramic shot from the Moorish castle at the top of the town, with the Ryndam in the distance.

The main attraction of Almería is its Moorish castle, the Alcazaba of Almería, which is the second largest among the Muslim fortresses of Andalusia, after the Alhambra. The medieval fortress was begun in the 13th century but destroyed by an earthquake in 1522. The structure was rebuilt and it includes a triple line of walls, a majestic keep and large gardens.

Above: The Moorish castle, the Alcazaba of Almería.


Ibiza is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, 79 km off the coast of the city of Valencia in Spain. It is the third largest of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous community of Spain. The relatively small island has become world-famous for its association with tourism, nightlife, and the electronic music the island has originated. However, Ibiza is also an island steeped in history with many fascinating cultural landmarks.

Above: A view of the capital, Ibiza Town (the town shares its name with island), taken from The Upper Town (D’alt Vila).

In 654 BC Phoenician settlers founded a port in the Balearic Islands, as Ibossim (from the Phoenician iboshim dedicated to the god of the music and dance, Bes - an interesting fact considering the island is now famous for its music and dance). With the decline of Phoenicia after the Assyrian invasions, Ibiza came under the control of Carthage, also a former Phoenician colony. The island produced dye, salt, fish sauce (garum), and wool.

Above: Upper Town (D’alt Vila), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, taken from the ship pier.

The Upper Town (D’alt Vila) which I visited on a walking tour is located inside citadel walls and exemplifies Renaissance architecture. We visited the cathedral, the Diocesan Museum and the Museum Puget with its large collection of paintings. The latter facility is housed in a noble palace built in the 15th century.

Above: The Cathedral in D’alt Vila.

We also took a drive of the island which visited Ses Salines, a fascinating area marked by 40 salt pits. The salt industry was among the first commercial ventures on the island, and is still in full production today. This region of the island is also a magnificent spot for bird watching due to the high concentration of birds that come here to live and breed, especially flamingos.

Above: The salt pits of Ses Salines.

We made a brief stop in San José, where we visited the 14th-century parish church - a white building that dominates the town.

Above: The organ inside San José's parish church.

Our final stop was the largest town on the island - Sant Antoni de Portmany—famous for the natural beauty of its bay and port area. The town (along with Ibiza Town) is well known for its summer club parties which attract large numbers of tourists. However, the island's government have been working to promote more family-oriented tourism passing rules including the closing of all nightclubs by 6 a.m. (!), and requiring all new hotels to be 5-star.

Thanks for reading. I have some wonderful Norwegian ports coming up for you!

Monday, 27 August 2012

Copenhagen, Denmark

Today I'd like to show you around Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. We stopped here on our two Baltic cruises, and although the weather was overcast, the city's charm shone through.

Above: Copenhagen is quite famous for its canals - the city is built upon a number of islands, much like Stockholm.

Denmark is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, located southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. The country consists of a large peninsula, Jutland and many islands along with two additional overseas constituent countries; the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic and Greenland in North America.

Above: Amalienborg Palace, the official residence of the Queen and her family.

Denmark became a member of the European Union in 1973 but remains outside the Eurozone, while both Greenland and the Faroe Islands have exercised their right to remain outside the EU entirely.

Above: The statue of the Little Mermaid, an icon of the city and a popular tourist attraction. The author of the tale, Hans Christian Andersen, lived in Copenhagen.

Denmark's history has been particularly influenced by its geographical location between the North and Baltic seas. This meant that it was between Sweden and Germany and thus at the centre of the mutual struggle for control of the Baltic Sea; before the digging of the Kiel Canal, water passage to the Baltic Sea was possible only through the three channels known as the Danish straits.

Above: Changing of the Guard at Amalienborg Palace, the official residence of the Queen and her family.

First documented in the 11th century, Copenhagen became the capital of Denmark in the beginning of the 15th century. During the 17th century, under the reign of Christian IV, it became a significant regional centre. Today the city is recognised as one of the cities with the best quality of life. It is also considered one of the world's most environmentally friendly cities. The water in the inner harbour is clean and safe for swimming. 36% of all citizens commute to work by bicycle.

Above: Frederik's Church (The Marble Church) which dominates the distinctive district of Frederiksstaden.

The most distinctive district of Copenhagen is Frederiksstaden developed during the reign of Frederick V. It has Amalienborg Palace at its centre and is dominated by the dome of Frederik's Church (The Marble Church) and several elegant 18th century mansions. The old inner city of Copenhagen includes the small island of Slotsholmen with Christiansborg Palace and Christianshavn.

Above: The dome of Frederik's Church.

Sometimes referred to as "the City of Spires", Copenhagen is known for its church and castle spires. Most characteristic is the baroque spire of Church of Our Saviour with its spiralling and narrowing external stairs that visitors can climb to the very top of the spire.

Above: The Church of Our Saviour's baroque spire.

Other important spires are those of Christiansborg Palace, the City Hall and the former Church of St. Nikolaj as well as the renaissance spires of Rosenborg Castle and the 'dragon spire' of Christian IV's former stock exchange, so named because it resembles the tails of four dragons twined together.

Above: The 'dragon spire' of Christian IV's former stock exchange (left).

During my second visit to Copenhagen, I visited Tivoli Gardens, a famous amusement park and pleasure garden in the heart of the city. The park opened on August 15, 1843 and is the second oldest amusement park in the world, after Dyrehavsbakken in nearby Klampenborg.

Above: The entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

From the very start, Tivoli included a variety of attractions: buildings in the exotic style of an imaginary Orient: a theatre, band stands, restaurants and cafés, flower gardens, and mechanical amusement rides such as a merry-go-round and a primitive scenic railway. After dark, coloured lamps illuminated the gardens. On certain evenings, specially designed fireworks could be seen reflected in Tivoli's lake.

Above: Tivoli's famous pirate ship.

Tivoli is always evolving without abandoning its original charm or traditions. As Georg Carstensen said in 1844, "Tivoli will never, so to speak, be finished," a sentiment echoed just over a century later when Walt Disney said of his own Tivoli-inspired theme park, "Disneyland will never be finished as long as there is imagination left in the world." Walt Disney during a trip overseas with his wife Lilly visited Tivoli Gardens. Walt was so impressed with the Danish amusement park, he immediately decided Disneyland should try to emulate its "happy and unbuttoned air of relaxed fun."

Above: Many buildings are built in the exotic style of an imaginary Orient. This one houses a five star restaurant.

The park is best known for its wooden roller coaster, Rutschebanen, built in 1914 in Malmö, Sweden and moved to Tivoli Gardens in 1915. It is one of world's oldest wooden roller coasters that is still operating today. An operator controls the ride by braking down the hills so it won't gain too much speed.

Above: The brake lever on Rutschebanen, the famous wooden coaster!

Besides the rides, Tivoli Gardens also serve as a venue for various performing arts and as an active part of the cultural scene in Copenhagen. With 3.963 million visitors in 2011, Tivoli is the second most popular seasonal theme park in the world and the fourth most visited in Europe, only behind Disneyland Paris , Europa-Park Rust and the Efteling.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Gibraltar, UK & Majorca, Spain

Welcome back to my blog. Today I want to show you two Spanish ports which we only visited once, and very briefly at that! I only managed a short walk around the harbour of Palma de Mallorca, but I managed to take a tour in Gibraltar - an overseas British territory!

Above: Part of Palma's long stretch of harbour.

Majorca or Mallorca is an island located in the Mediterranean Sea, one of the Balearic Islands. Like the other Balearic Islands of Ibiza, Formentera and Minorca, the island is a highly popular holiday destination, particularly for tourists from the UK, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

Above: Bellver Castle - behind the harbour and apartments - was the first circular castle in Europe, built in the 13th century.

Palma de Mallorca, is the major city and port on the island and capital city of the Balearic Islands in Spain. It is situated on the south coast of the island on the Bay of Palma. As of the 2009 census, the population of the city of Palma was 401,270 - nearly half the total population of Majorca.

Above: Palma's waterfront.

Palma was founded as a Roman camp upon the remains of a Talaiotic settlement. The turbulent history of the city saw it the subject of several Vandal sackings during the fall of the Roman Empire, then re-conquered by the Byzantine, then colonised by the Moors, and finally established by James I of Aragon.

Above: La Seu, Palma's vast cathedral originally built on a previous mosque. Although construction began in 1229, it did not finish until 1601 and local architect Antoni Gaudí was drafted in during a restoration project in 1901.


Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. It has an area of 2.6 square miles and a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. At its foot is the densely populated city area, home to almost 30,000 Gibraltarians and other nationalities.

Above: Gibraltar's city area with the Spanish coastline in the background. The Ryndam is docked in the centre of the photo.

An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar from Spain in 1704 during the War of the Spanish Succession. The territory was subsequently ceded to Britain "in perpetuity" under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. It was an important base for the Royal Navy but today its economy is based largely on tourism, financial services, and shipping.

Above: The Gibraltar flag on the left with the Union Jack right and a combination of the two in the centre.

The sovereignty of Gibraltar is a major point of contention in Anglo-Spanish relations as Spain asserts a claim to the territory. Gibraltarians rejected proposals for Spanish sovereignty in a 1967 referendum and again in 2002. Under the Gibraltar constitution of 2006, Gibraltar governs its own affairs, though some powers, such as defence and foreign relations, remain the responsibility of the UK Government.

Above: An adult Barbary Macaque on the Gibraltar Rock.

Most of the Rock's upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 230 Barbary Macaques (commonly confused with apes), the only wild monkeys found in Europe. This species is listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and is declining. A superstition analogous to that of the ravens at the Tower of London states that if the monkeys ever leave, so will the British.

Above: A baby Barbary Macaque looking for food. Tourists are not meant to feed the creatures but many do anyway!

Also at the top of the Rock was St Michael's Cave, a natural system of caverns with impressive rock formations and even a natural concert hall inside.

Above: St Michael's Cave, taken from the top of the concert hall.

We also visited the lighthouse at Europa Point which commanded views over the Strait of Gibraltar and the Bay of Gibraltar, the Spanish mainland and, on a clear day, the African continent which we were lucky enough to see.

Above: The Europa Point lighthouse.

Above: The African continent!

Also at Europa Point is the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque which was a gift by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

Above: The Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque with the Rock of Gibraltar in the background.

I hope you enjoyed this very brief glimpse at Mallorca and Gibraltar. Thanks for reading!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Stockholm, Sweden

Welcome back to my blog! Today, I'm excited to show you around Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden and one of my favourite Baltic ports!

Above: The cityscape of central Stockholm, taken from a Hop-on, Hop-off bus!

Founded around the turn of the 13th Century, Stockholm's strategic location on the south-east coast of Sweden at the mouth of Lake Mälaren has been historically important; the city is said to have been founded by Birger Jarl to protect Sweden from a sea invasion by foreign navies and to stop the pillage of towns on Lake Mälaren.

Above: Stockholm is built on islands, and the canals that run through it have lent it the nickname, 'Venice of the North'.

The earliest written mention of the name Stockholm dates from 1252; the first part of the name (stock) means log in Swedish, although it may also be connected to an old German word (Stock) meaning fortification. The second part of the name (holm) means islet, and is thought to refer to the islet Helgeandsholmen in central Stockholm.

Above: Stockholm's Old Town, known as Gamla Stan.

Stockholm's Old Town was built on the central island from the mid-13th century onward. The city originally rose to prominence as a result of the Baltic trade of the Hanseatic League. Stockholm developed strong economic and cultural linkages with Lübeck, Hamburg, Gdańsk, Visby, Reval, and Riga during this time.

Above: Stockholm Royal Palace which I visited.

We visited Stockholm twice, and each time was an overnight stay which meant we had two days on each visit to explore the city! During our first stay, I visited Stockholm Royal Palace which is the official residence of the Swedish Monarch. The first building on this site was a fortress built in the 13th Century which was replaced in 1697, by a palace built in the Baroque style. However, that very same year, much of the palace was destroyed in a fire and it took another 63 years to rebuild the damaged palace.

Above: The beautiful organ, inside the palace's chapel.

As well as the chapel, I also visited the treasury which houses crowns and other royal artefacts as well as many of the royal rooms which were very impressive! Just opposite the palace lies the Royal Swedish Opera House which was inaugurated in 1773.

Above: The Royal Swedish Opera House.

On our second visit to Stockholm, I spent the first day in a rather less culturally enriching environment - Tivoli Gröna Lund (meaning The Green Grove), Stockholm's very own theme park! Founded in 1883 by James Schultheis, Gröna Lund is relatively small compared to other amusement parks, mainly due to its central location, which limits expansion.

Above: Tivoli Gröna Lund from across the water.

Gröna Lund is a popular venue for concerts during the summer and the capacity record is held by Bob Marley who attracted 32,000 people in 1980. The park is quite unique in the sense that most of the buildings on the site are old residential and commercial structures dating from the 19th century; the buildings were not built for the park - instead, the park is built around the buildings.

Above: One of the park's newest coasters, simply called Insane. It lived up to its name!

On my final day in Stockholm, I visited the Vasa Museum - a truly incredible experience! The museum houses the warship Vasa which was to be the pride of ancient Sweden’s mighty navy. However, the ship sank in Stockholm’s inner harbour on her maiden voyage in 1628. The reason for its untimely sinking is thought to have been the lack of ballast (i.e. rocks) in the bottom of the ship's hull to balance the (previously unheard of) two decks of canons which the King had demanded.

Above: The Vasa warship. It's a huge ship and you can't quite get a sense of the scale from these photos.

The ship's discovery in 1956, and subsequent salvage in 1961, were among the most important events in maritime archaeology. The Vasa was painstakingly restored to much of its original magnificence and the museum is built around the ship, with special climate control systems in place to preserve the oak wood of the hull.

Above: Detail on the stern of the ship. The figures were originally painted.

I hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse of Stockholm. It's a great city to explore with the added bonus that almost everything was free for ship's crew members!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Cartagena and Murcia, Spain

Welcome back to my blog. Today I want to take you to the Mediterranean, with the Spanish cities of Cartagena and Murcia. These two adjacent cities are found on the coast of south-eastern Spain and both are steeped in history.

Above: A panoramic shot of Cartagena with the naval port on the right and an old bullring, formally a Roman Amphitheatre in the centre.

Cartagena has been inhabited for over two millennia, being founded around 227 BC during the Phoenician conquest. The city lived its heyday during the Roman Empire, when it was known as Carthago Nova (the New Carthage) and it was also one of the important cities during the Umayyad invasion of Hispania.

Above: I paid a visit to the incredible Roman Theatre.

It is the first of a number of cities which eventually have been named Cartagena, most notably Cartagena de Indias (Cartagena of the Indies) in Colombia which I visited last year - see my blog post here . Much of the historical weight of Cartagena in the past goes to its coveted defensive port, one of the most important in the western Mediterranean. It is still an important naval seaport, the main military haven of Spain, and is home to a large naval shipyard.

Above: The Roman Theatre from above. Most of the stage backdrop has been lost but you can see some of the pillars that used to form it on the right.

The city is becoming very popular with cruise ships due to the number of landmarks such as the Roman Theatre, the second largest of the Iberian Peninsula, and an abundance of Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine and Moorish remains. Most of Cartagena's oldest monuments date from the ages of the Roman Empire when the city flourished. On my visit here I visited the recently restored Roman theatre of Carthago Nova. Its building works started at the end of the 2nd century BC and the Roman Theatre museum was officially opened for the first time recently.

Above: The Roman Theatre taken from the stage!

I also visited the Concepción Castle (now Centre for Interpretation of the History of Cartagena) which was reconstructed in the 13th century using big structures from the Amphitheatre. The castle afforded great views over the city. Cartagena is also home to numerous art nouveau buildings from early 20th century such as the City Hall, when the Bourgeoisie settled down in the city due to the growth of the local mining industry.

Above: The main street into Cartagena from the cruise terminal, with the Art Nouveau City Hall on the left.

During my time in Cartagena, I also took a shore excursion to the nearby city of Murcia (I packed in a lot that day!), divided from Cartagena by a mountain range.

Murcia is the seventh largest city in the country, with a population of 442,573 inhabitants. Located on the Segura River, it was founded by the emir of Cordoba Abd ar-Rahman II in 825 AD and is now mainly a services city and a university town. Highlights for visitors include the Cathedral of Murcia and a number of baroque buildings, renowned local cuisine, Holy Week processions and the Fiestas de Primavera (Spring Festival).

Above: Murcia Cathedral.

The Cathedral of Murcia was built between 1394 and 1465 in the Castilian Gothic style. Its tower was completed in 1792 and shows a blend of architectural styles. The first two stories were built in the Renaissance style (1521–1546), while the third is Baroque. The bell pavilion exhibits both Rococo and Neoclassical influences. The main façade (1736–1754) is considered a masterpiece of the Spanish Baroque style.

Above: A large plainchant book which the choir would have stood around to sing with the Cathedral organ in the background.

The Cathedral also has a great many chapels leading off from the main body. Some of these used to be owned by wealthy private families who would bury their loved ones there. One of the most beautiful chapels was never used by the family that owned it and it stands empty today.

Above: The chapel which now stands empty.

The Holy Week procession hosted by the city is among the most famous throughout Spain. This traditional festival portrays the events which lead up to and include the Crucifixion. Life-sized, finely detailed sculptures by Francisco Salzillo (1707–1783) are removed from their museums and carried around the city in elegant processions amid flowers.

Above: A statue of the virgin Mary in the Monastery we visited.

We also visited the Monastery of the Virgin of Fuensanta during our time in Murcia. The Monastery is located on a hillside and commands impressive views over Murcia. The image of the virgin Mary above is one of the sculptures which is paraded through town during Holy Week.

Above: Monastery of the Virgin of Fuensanta.

I hope you enjoyed this post. I'll be back soon with more - there are a lot of ports to show you!