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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Vigo and Valencia - Spain

Welcome back to my blog. Today I would like to show you two Spanish cities, located on opposite sides of the country - Vigo and Valencia.


Above: Part of Vigo's large harbour area, as viewed from the hill fort (Castro).

The earliest records of Vigo as a village began around the 15th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the city was attacked several times. In 1585 and 1589, Francis Drake raided the city and temporarily occupied it, leaving many buildings burnt.

Above: The harbour where the Ryndam docked with modern art and a shopping mall on the left.

Several decades later a Turkish fleet tried to attack the city. As a result the walls of the city were built in 1656 during the reign of Philip IV of Spain. They are still partially preserved.

Above: Downtown Vigo.

The urban area of Vigo is built over both a hill-fort (Castro) and a Roman settlement. During our time here, I walked up to the fort and explored the gardens inside it.

Above: One of the paths that led up to the fort.

Vigo was the first city of Galicia to be freed from French rule in what is now celebrated as the Reconquista (reconquest from French in the context of the Peninsular War) on 28 March each year.

Above: A nautical monument, near the top of the fort.

The city grew very rapidly in the 19th and 20th centuries. This resulted in continuous urban planning changes, making Vigo less structured than other Galician towns.

Above: The shopping mall with Vigo Cathedral in the background.

After exploring the fort, I walked back down the hill through the old town, taking in the cathedral and general atmosphere of the place. I did not have any tours in either of these ports, but sometimes it is nice to explore on your own, without having to chat to passengers all the time!

Above: The view from the top of the fort.


Valencia is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, with around 809,000 inhabitants. The Port of Valencia which is about a 20 minute drive from the centre, is the 5th busiest container port in Europe and the largest on the Mediterranean Sea. The traditional Spanish dish, paella, originated in Valencia.

Above: One of the main squares of Valencia with the Cathedral in the background and the obligatory tourist buses.

Valencia was founded as a Roman colony in 138 BC. Its historic centre is one of the largest in Spain, and this heritage of ancient monuments, views and cultural attractions makes Valencia one of the country's most popular tourist destinations.

Above: One of the many monuments found in the city.

The ancient winding streets of the Barrio del Carmen contain buildings dating to Roman and Arabic times. The Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries, is primarily of Gothic style but contains elements of Baroque and Romanesque architecture. The 15th century Serrano and Quart towers are part of what was once the wall surrounding the city.

Above: The 15th century Towers of Serranos, once part of the city wall.

The city surrendered without a fight to the invading Moors (Berbers and Arabs) in 714 AD, and the cathedral of Saint Vincent was turned into a mosque. When Islamic culture settled in, Valencia prospered from the 10th century, due to a booming trade in paper, silk, leather, ceramics, glass and silver-work. The architectural legacy of this period is abundant in Valencia and can still be appreciated today in the remnants of the old walls and even the Cathedral and the tower, El Micalet, which was the minaret of the old mosque (see first picture).

Above: Rich details and colours on one of the many historical buildings.

In the early 20th century Valencia was an industrialized city. The silk industry had disappeared, but there was a large production of hides and skins, wood, metals and foodstuffs, this last with substantial exports, particularly of wine and citrus. Among the most architecturally successful buildings of the early 20th century were those designed in the Art Nouveau style, such as the North Station (Gare du Nord) and the Central and Columbus markets.

Above: The historic Central Market (Mercado Central) of Valencia.

I would have liked more time to explore Valencia (we only visited the city once) but I saw a lot on my walking exploration! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Cadiz and Jerez, Spain

Welcome back to my blog! Today I would like to show you my favourite Spanish port - Cadiz, along with its neighbouring town Jerez. Cadiz is the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the Iberian Peninsula and possibly all southwestern Europe, and it was a regular stop on our Mediterranean runs.

Above: One of the main squares in the Old Town of Cadiz.

The city was originally founded as Gadir (Phoenician for "walled city") by the Phoenicians from Tyre. Traditionally, its founding is dated to 1104 BC although no archaeological strata on the site can be dated earlier than the 9th century BC. One resolution for this discrepancy has been to assume that Gadir was merely a small seasonal trading post in its earliest days.

Above: One of the many beautiful gardens found throughout the Old Town.

The older part of Cadiz, within the remnants of the city walls, is commonly referred to as the Old Town and features narrow winding alleys connecting large plazas. The city is dotted with numerous parks where exotic plants flourish, including giant trees supposedly brought to Spain by Columbus from the New World.

Above: The Monument to the Constitution of 1812, constructed between 1912 and 1929 in order to mark the hundredth anniversary of the liberal constitution. The monument is in a large square, the Plaza de España, close to the ship.

One of Cadiz's most famous landmarks is its cathedral. It sits on the site of an older cathedral, completed in 1260, which burned down in 1596. The reconstruction, which was not started until 1776, was supervised by the architect Vicente Acero, who had also built the Granada Cathedral. Acero left the project and was succeeded by several other architects. As a result, this largely Baroque-style cathedral was built over a period of 116 years, and, due to this drawn-out period of construction, the cathedral underwent several major changes to its original design.

Above: The front facade of Cadiz Cathedral.

Its chapels have many paintings and relics from the old cathedral and monasteries from throughout Spain. Like many cathedrals in Spain there was an entry fee but you can simply walk up to the barrier, take a picture and walk back out!

Above: Inside the Cathedral.

In the 18th century, Cadiz had more than 160 towers from which local merchants could look out to sea for arriving merchant ships. The Torre Tavira, named for its original owner, stands as the tallest remaining watchtower and I paid it a visit during one of our stops. It has a cámara oscura, a room that uses the principal of the pinhole camera (and a specially-prepared convex lens) to project panoramic views of the Old City onto a concave disc. Despite the rather 'old-school' technology that this oscura utilises it is still quite an amazing experience to view the city projected right in front of you.

Above: The view from the Torre Tavira. You can see how narrow the strip of land is which Old Town Cadiz occupies. Note the Cathedral on the right and the Ryndam on the left.

On my fairly exhaustive walking tour (independent) of the city, I also passed by the city gates of Las Puertas de Tierra. These originated in the 16th century, although much of the original work has disappeared. Once consisting of several layers of walls, only one of these remain today. By the 20th century it was necessary to remodel the entrance to the Old City to accommodate modern traffic. Today, the two side-by-side arches cut into the wall serve as one of the primary entrances to the city.

Above: The city gates of Las Puertas de Tierra.

Those of you who have been following my blog know that I love to find locations from movies on my travels and Cadiz is no exception. La Playa de la Caleta is the best-loved beach of Cadiz and is the beach of the Old City, situated between two castles, San Sebastian and Santa Catalina. La Caleta and the boulevard show a lot of resemblance to parts of Havana, the capital city of Cuba, like the malecon. Therefore it served as the set for several of the Cuban scenes in the beginning of the James Bond movie 'Die Another Day'.

Above: La Playa de la Caleta, where Halle Berry's entrance from the 'Cuban' waters was filmed!

I walked out to one of the castles flanking the beach, San Sebastián which is an old military fortification built in 1706. Today the castle remains unused, although its future uses remain much debated.

Above: The view of Cadiz from San Sebastián.

On another stop in Cadiz, I took a tour to neighbouring Jerez de la Frontera, situated midway between the sea and the mountains. It has become the transportation and communications hub of the province, surpassing even Cádiz, the provincial capital, in economic activity and its sprawling outlying areas are a fertile zone for agriculture.

Above: There are many horse statues in downtown Jerez.

Jerez is known as the capital of sherry wine, horsemanship, and flamenco dancing. It is the home of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, a riding school comparable to the world-famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Jerez, the city where flamenco singing began, is also proud of its Andalusian Centre of Flamenco.

Above: The entrance to the Harveys Bristol Cream factory.

During our time in Jerez, we visited a Harveys Bristol Cream factory for a tour and a tasting session. Originally Bristol imported large quantities of sherry from different places, mainly from Jerez, Oporto and Maderia and sherry was then shipped from Bristol up to the 1960s. Today Harveys ships Bristol Cream directly from Jerez and current exports go to around 100 countries.

Above: 2328 butts of Finos and Olorosos are aged in this bodega, it was built in the 19th Century and it is where the Sherry butts are prepared before being shipped.

I will leave with you with a final arty shot of the Town Hall in old town Cadiz. Thanks for reading!


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Welcome back to my blog. As I sail towards Indonesia for an encounter with dragons I thought I would bring you a port a little closer to home - Amsterdam!

Above: One of Amsterdam's many famous canals.

Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands with an urban population of 1,209,419. Located in the province of North Holland in the west of the country, Amsterdam is connected to the North Sea through the long North Sea Canal to the west of the city. Our ship, the Ryndam docked very close to the city centre and so we sailed through the Canal each time we docked in Amsterdam. The canal features several locks which the ship entered in order to negotiate the 2 metre difference in height between the city and the sea.

Above: Trams are a common sight in Amsterdam. The overhead lines get in the way of many photographs!

The city's name is derived from Amstelredamme, indicative of the city's origin: a dam in the river Amstel. Settled as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age, a result of its innovative developments in trade. During that time, the city was the leading centre for finance and diamonds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the city expanded, and many new neighbourhoods and suburbs were formed.

Above: Dam Square with the Royal Palace on the left of the picture.

Fanning out south from the Amsterdam Central railway station, the city's canal system is the result of conscious city planning. In the early 17th century, when immigration was at a peak, a comprehensive plan was developed that was based on four concentric half-circles of canals with their ends emerging at the IJ bay (where are ship was docked). These canals were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in July 2010.

Above: Green spaces are common in Amsterdam - this is one of the largest parks.

Amsterdam has a rich architectural history. In the 16th century, wooden buildings were razed and replaced with brick ones (only two wooden buildings remain today). During this period, many buildings were constructed in the architectural style of the Renaissance. Buildings of this period are very recognisable with their stepped gable façades, which is the common Dutch Renaissance style. Amsterdam quickly developed its own Renaissance architecture. tower house

Above: Quirky architecture in the city centre.

Amsterdam's main attractions, including its historic canals, the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum, Hermitage Amsterdam, Anne Frank House, Amsterdam Museum, its red-light district, and its many cannabis coffee shops draw more than 3.66 million international visitors annually. However, a new national regulation could greatly affect the city's famed tolerance for drugs, and cut down on the number of foreigners coming there to buy marijuana.

Above: The red light district, a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world (and as a result, rather unfriendly towards pedestrians!) However, bicycle theft is widespread – in 2005, about 54,000 bicycles were stolen in Amsterdam! I should have rented a ship bike during my time in Amsterdam, but instead I decided to walk everywhere!

Above: Munttoren, a famous bell tower constructed in 1620.

On two of my three visits to Amsterdam I went to the cinema to see 'The Dark Knight Rises'! Most Dutch people speak English so luckily the movie was in English with Dutch subtitles. Although the cinema I went to was fairly unremarkable, there is a famous cinema in downtown Amsterdam called the Tuschinski. It is a heritage art deco building with a beautiful lobby and six screens and I was sad not to get a chance to look inside. I got a picture from outside though:

Above: The Tuschinski.

These visits were my first to Amsterdam, despite living fairly close to the Netherlands. It is a beautiful city and I would like to go back one day!