Friday, April 22, 2022

April 20th – Assessing the Changes in Gibraltar

A disputed border town like Gibraltar is always in a state of flux. But, with the uncertainty caused by Brexit, this British enclave defiantly clinging on at the foot of Spain is facing some difficult times. 

Our guide told us that there were food shortages in the supermarkets (supply chain problems), and that the Gibraltarians’ ability to cross the border into Spain, was now being limited to only being allowed if they had accommodation booked in Spain. At the same time, the Spanish were playing even more difficult at the border crossing, because they were annoyed that there were two nuclear submarines (one British, one American) docked not too far from us in the port.

However, she was fairly cheerful about things, and expected everything to settle down. Certainly, judging by the amount of building projects on the reclaimed land on the edge of town, the developers are feeling confident about the future. If you hadn’t been to Gibraltar for 20 years, you’d be surprised how much the territory has grown.

My tour visited many of the standard tourist sights that give Gibraltar an exotic allure that belies its rather mundane urban appearance. We travelled up and around the rock, viewing sea caves that were home to our neanderthal ancestors; visiting the huge underground St Michael’s Cave, which has recently been upgraded with a multi-million pound sound and light show; visiting the old Moorish Castle (ignoring the fact that the Moors held the Rock for much longer than either the British and Spanish Crowns); tasting some wines (Spanish of course); and getting a fleeting glimpse of the Rock’s most famous residents, its mischievous monkeys (who were mostly sheltering from the unseasonably cold wind).

Gibraltar is a place that continues to defy logic. Even if you ignore the rights and wrongs of the British presence here, you wouldn’t expect this tiny territory to be thriving, but it clearly is. When you look at all the unattractive apartment blocks, you wouldn’t necessarily expect it to be a nice place to live – but the people here clearly enjoy life. Many people expected Brexit to kill off Gibraltar, but as ever here on the Rock, the Gibraltarians have found a way to keep going. 

April 19th – Malaga at its Best

Today the Costa del Sol was really living up to its name – there was a relaxed sun-drenched feel to Malaga that was a joy to soak up.

Malaga has always been an under-rated place, but its new cruise terminal right in the centre of its re-developed waterfront really shows off the town to its best. We got up early to do a walk along the attractive city beach – a beach that often gets forgotten about when all the tourists rush off to their concrete resorts further along the coast.

After strolling the pedestrianised shopping streets of the town centre, we then visited the town’s lively market, which is a great showpiece for the wonderful seafood that the area’s famous for – where better to have some delicious fried fresh boquerones?

More browsing and shopping was followed by a wonderful evening meal at an excellent recommended restaurant not too far from the ship called Deriva. 

For some people, the name “Malaga” evokes images of mass-market holiday resorts like Torremolinos. Today showed that there’s much more to this old school city – delicious food, great shopping, a classy atmosphere, and, of course, there’s always the beach.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

April 12th-13th – A Room With a View in Athens

Athens is the kind of city that looks great from some angles, and fairly unimpressive from others. Rather than focusing on the grime and graffiti, you can concentrate on views of the few classical splendours and architectural marvels that have survived the millennia.

Our highlight was a wonderful lunch at the rooftop restaurant in the Hotel Grand Bretagne – Athens’s most venerable hotel. The food and company were wonderful, but the backdrop just couldn’t be beaten – a stunning view across to the sublime Acropolis overlooking the sprawling city below it.

Our couple of days here were all about trying to see Athens at its best – enjoying the choreographed theatrics of the Changing of the Guard in Syntagma Square; sampling the grand Neo-Classical buildings of 19th century Athens once it had become the capital of independent Greece (the University, the National Library, the Academy of Arts); and even doing a pleasant walk around the waterfront in Piraeus (a place that sometimes finds it hard to look good!).

When you travel the world, you get to choose which view of a city you take away with you – it’s much more pleasant to accentuate the positive.

April 10th-11th – Chilling Out in Istanbul

After an exhilarating but tiring trip to Cappadocia, we were looking to chill out in Istanbul. What we weren’t expecting was bone-chilling weather – Tracy was convinced that it was colder here than it was in Antarctica!

Actually, on our first evening, the weather wasn’t too bad, so we went out to explore the new developments outside the brand new Cruise Terminal. The space age terminal looks great, but whoever designed it didn’t have cruise passengers in mind – it takes about 15 minutes (and over a kilometre of walking) to get out it! A crazy layout given the demographic of the cruising public.

However, the new outdoor malls and waterside restaurants are great – a really lively atmosphere that made you think that we were in a European city (ok – this side of Istanbul is geographically in Europe), rather than an Islamic city during Ramadan.

The next morning was cold, grey and rainy, but we struggled on through anyway, heading to the Aya Sofya to see how much has changed since it was turned back into a mosque last year. Sadly it was still shut for cleaning on the two occasions that we tried to go in, so that will have to wait.

Instead, we walked around the familiar sights of Sultanahmet – the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome and the Grand Bazaar (which at least got us out of the biting wind). As the rain came pouring down, the city wasn’t looking its best, but to me, Istanbul seems to have improved itself nicely in the few years since I was here last.

April 8th-10th – Captivated by Cappadocia

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, which is just as well because this World Cruise has got really busy, and I’m way behind on blogs.

So, this post on an amazing trip to Cappadocia in Turkey is mainly going to be about the pictures – which is appropriate because this is one of the most visually stunning places I’ve ever been to. And, it looks especially stunning when you do an early morning balloon ride over its bizarre rock formations, with a backdrop of over 150 other balloons. 

Another place ticked off the bucket list.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

April 7th – On the Rhodes Again

Much as I’ve loved all our previous ports, there’s always something re-assuring about returning to Europe after 3 months away. Maybe it’s because we know Rhodes so well, that a visit here is something of a “homecoming” – Tracy and I came here on our first ever holiday together when we were 19, and it’s always a popular stop on any Mediterranean itinerary (we came here three times last year alone).

And, visiting in April, before the package tourists arrive is one of the ways to see this historic town at its best. It feels like Rhodes Town is literally waking up from its winter slumber – as the restaurants and hotels start opening up again with a yawn, and the shops dust themselves off for the summer onslaught (people seem genuinely pleased to see tourists at this time of year, rather than the jaded responses you can often get).

On a warmish day, we decided to trek up to the Ancient Acropolis above Rhodes Town to see its scanty ruins, before doing a pleasant stroll along the beachfront. Some days you don’t have to tick off historic sights or have amazing cultural experiences – just savouring the familiar atmosphere of a place you enjoy coming back to, is more than enough.