A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Cruise Day 25 – Funchal

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Day 84 Wednesday 8 December - “Cruise Day 25 – Funchal”

Threatening clouds and visible rain squalls greeted us as we approached the island of Madeira. Just before entering the port the sun broke though and bathed the hillside in brilliant light. There were two other cruise ships in port when we arrived, the Aida Bella and the Costa Mediterranean.

The terminal building and surrounds were very obviously new and very impressive, the walk into town, less so. It took the best part of 20 minutes to walk past the extensive construction site where the Aida Bella was berthed and into the charming down-town foreshore area.
The whole atmosphere was clean, tidy and organised. Beautiful parks with whole rows of trees decorated for Christmas. The footpaths were constructed of small tiles rather like a terrazzo floor. Outdoor eating areas and elegant shops climbed the slopes of the central mountain. All together a very pretty place.

We used McDonald's toilets again, we really should pay them for providing the service. We wandered up from the waterfront and found a beautiful church with lavish decorations. We found our way back to the ship and were entertained by a local traditional dance group in the Stardust. The costumes were beautiful and the dances very interesting, it was a shame that there were so few people there to appreciate them.

Once again, three hours ashore walking and climbing stairs has tested our endurance and we're both looking forward to a sea day tomorrow.

Posted by greynomadm 12:06 Archived in Portugal Comments (1)

Cruise Day 24 – Las Palmas

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Day 83 Tuesday 7 December - “Cruise Day 24 – Las Palmas”

An uneventful night at sea and we arrived at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in brilliant sunshine at 11 am. A surprisingly busy and extensive port. The Cunnard Queen Elisabeth was docked on one side and we occupied the other side of the main pier.
fter an early lunch we stepped ashore with only a five minute walk to the city. Along the way we passed two 'square rigged' ships – one from Germany the other from Great Britain. They look very stately but quite small when compared to the Jade and the Queen Elisabeth.

We walked around the area close to the port and enjoyed the pedestrian friendly nature of the area. Lots of fancy shops, restaurants and cafes. In the main 'down-town' area there were many elegant department stores featuring many of the high fashion international brands. Jenny felt that the prices were quite reasonable.

The city is certainly one of the cleanest and most modern we've visited. There are still narrow alleys and some erratic driving but generally a relaxing visit. After about three hours on our feet and with the temperature in the high twenties we were happy to return to the ship.

The Stardust show tonight was a 'Tribute to Celine Dion by an English singer Tracey Shield. She had a marvellous voice but I personally couldn't relate to the songs.

We've hit a significant Atlantic swell and with a strong wind on our port beam the Jade is making some interesting movements.

Posted by greynomadm 13:22 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

Cruise Day 23 Agadir

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Day 82 Monday 6 December - “Cruise Day 23 – Agadir”

I'm not sure if yesterday's blog entry finally made it onto the web site, there were a number of hiccups when I was trying to publish it.

Agadir is a much smaller port than Casablanca and we were tied up at the grain terminal from where the shuttle took us into the town. At 9 am the city was still getting started and the streets were very quiet. Taxis and their drivers swarmed all over us offering all kinds of deals which we politely but firmly rejected.

With no clear idea of what there was to see and an almost total lack of street signs to guide us we wandered back and forth along some of the main streets. There were many up-market hotels as Agadir is a popular beach resort for Europeans. At one stage an older gent asked us if we wanted to visit the market, we said yes and he pointed us back in the direction we'd just travelled.

As we headed off we were 'picked up' by a local who declared that he wasn't a guide but would show us where the market was because he worked there. Only 5 minutes, very close, show you many spices, have mint tea.

The 5 minutes were more like 15 or 29 and we finally arrived at a small hole in the wall shop with most of the goods on display in the alley way. He pointed out the various herbs and spices and explained the therapeutic benefits of them. We were invited to sit and he brewed us some mint tea, very refreshing.

The ingredient for which the area is famous is “Argane” oil which is extracted from the kernel of a nut which grows on trees only found in Morocco – at least that's how the story goes. We felt obliged to buy at least something so paid 30 € for a pot of moisturising cream and four bars of soap. At the conclusion of the transaction he insisted in taking us to another shop where they sold traditional 'Berber' products – fine jewellery, leather goods and Berber carpets.

Spent some time examining some exquisite silver items with delicate filigree and many pieces incorporating various shades of amber. We wandered down the stairs to where the leather goods were on display. Jenny had almost bought a jacket in Casablanca and under the influence of some serious sales pressure she tried one or two on.

Despite repeated requests for the price we were fobbed off and told that the important thing was to find a garment that she liked. It so happened that she found one in the colour she wanted and more importantly that fit. Some mint tea and the price is announced in the local currency – Dirham. Some seriously big number which was eventually discounted and translated to about 200 € - I've been using US$ 1.50 per 1 €, so we're talking US$ 300.

We reject the price and Jenny starts to get very embarrassed because the salesman has spent so much time finding the right jacket and she can't justify spending that much money. By now, I'm the target of the sales pitch, doesn't it look good on her – yes it did, isn't she a good wife and deserve a nice souvenir from Morocco – yes she does. I can put the US$300 on Visa at no extra cost. I tell him we're sorry for wasting his time but the price is too high. So what is Sir prepared to pay ? I tell him US$ 100. This brings forth a long lament, describing the many children that will starve not to mention that he'll be sacked from his job.

He brings his price down to US$250 in cash, I match his adjustment and agree to pay US$150. He can't authorise this and takes us to meet the 'manager' who claims that the best he can do is US$225. At this point I pull out three $50 bills and place them on the counter, he looks at them and asks where's the other one? I tell him that's all I have and he can take it or leave it. He starts wrapping the jacket and after some discussion about giving him good publicity in return for a very special deal we walk out with the jacket. I've no idea if we got a good deal or if we still were ripped off but it was an experience and Jenny is happy.

We're heading back to the shuttle pick-up when we're both in need of a comfort stop. So we find a cafe with a WC and order a long black for me and a Coke for Jenny. When it comes time to pay all I have is a 20 € note and after some rapid calculations I'm handed 170 in local currency which I figure would be about 15 € or thereabout. No idea what to spend it on, it is useless outside Morocco.

Along the way we see a sign for a hairdresser. Jenny's been wanting a trim and I'm well overdue for a tidy up. So we go inside and find that Jenny can have her hair cut for 50 local currency. They offer to do a job on me for only 70 local. So we spend the next half hour being pampered as two men give us the works. Shampoo for Jenny and a scalp massage for me, trim, shave and hot towel to finish me off. I handed over the whole 170 and invited them to share whatever was left over. Now THAT was a good deal !!

Found our way to the bus stop and were told by the taxi drivers that we'd just missed the bus and the next one would be over an hour because the driver had gone to lunch. They'll try anything, within 10 minutes there was another bus. Back to the ship, a late lunch and before we know it time for dinner. Watched the magic show again, every bit as mystifying as the last time. On return to the cabin we found that the VIP fairy had left a plate of goodies again – very nice.

Posted by greynomadm 14:20 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Cruise Day 22 Casablanca

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Day 81 Sunday 5 December - “Cruise Day 22 – Casablanca”

With customary efficiency the Jade arrived in the busy post of Casablanca right on schedule. The crew performed another miracle of manoeuvring and 'parked' the ship in a very constricted space. There appeared to be only inches to spare bow and stern as she swung through about 120 degrees.

We’re still subject to 'disease control protocols' and the extra effort is having an effect on the serving staff, especially in the garden cafe where the majority of meals are served. It is designed to be 'self service' and it stretches the facilities when only staff can serve the food and handle the utensils. I think they are well and truly 'over it'.

The shuttle bus took us into one of the main squares in the city and we set off to explore the 'Médina' where there are wall to wall little shops and stalls selling everything from fresh fish, eggs, vegetables, spices, dates and bread to fine leather coats, shoes and traditional clothing items. All business being conducted in narrow alleys crowded with locals and tourists.

We found our way out onto a main boulevard right near 'Rick's Place' of the movie Casablanca fame. It transpires that there wasn't ever a Rick's Place until an enterprising American established it after the release of the movie. We're told it features a piano player named Sam.

A lengthy walk brought us to the Mosque Hassan II, a magnificent 'temple' built out over the Atlantic Ocean. It is reputed to be the largest Mosque in the world and has the tallest minaret at 574 feet. The surrounding paved area could easily rival the world famous Tienanmen Square in Beijing for size. It is entirely paved in marble.

The decorations on all parts of the mosque are both colourful and intricate. The area of the mosque gives way to some impressive government offices with arched walkways and beautifully maintained gardens.

On our way back to the shuttle pick-up we again experienced the crowded lane ways of the 'Médina' where the increasing numbers of shoppers vied for space with taxis, scooters, push carts and in one case a shopping trolley being used to 'move' a sizable cupboard. In one of the wider streets, kids played soccer almost oblivious to the vehicles demanding a share of the roadway.

One of the 'streets' was lined on one side by dozens of jewellery shops selling exquisite works of art in gold, silver and precious stones. Many of them were just opening for business despite it being past noon. We'd remarked on how relaxed the place was when we first arrived at 9:30, it had certainly come alive while we enjoyed the tranquillity of the Mosque.

Back at the ship we had a quiet lunch and then rested our weary feet. Despite a valiant attempt to read a book we both dozed off and next thing it was time for dinner and the show in the Stardust. Four Spanish male vocalists with quite different voices which harmonised well to take us through a repertoire of songs in both Spanish and English. Watch out for the group “Fourever”, they've recently released their first album in London.

Back at the 'stateroom' there is a plate of tit-bits in recognition of our newly acquired VIP status.

Oh, must tell you of a little incident on deck. We started talking to two ladies very obviously from the USA. One of them asked the number one question: “Where are you from?”. Quick as a flash and with a dead-pan face Jenny replied “Texas!”. The look on their faces was priceless as they tried to process that bit of information.

The ship is a bit lively at the moment, we are experiencing moderate seas and gale force winds. Out to the West there's a spectacular light show from some thunder storms over the horizon. I expect the sick-bags will be out again in the morning.

Posted by greynomadm 14:02 Archived in Morocco Comments (1)

Cruise Day 21 - at Sea

Day 80 Saturday 4 December - “Cruise Day 21 – at Sea”

There was a surprise or two in our 'letter-box' this morning. Along with the regular 'Daily' there were three envelopes. One was an invitation to join the Captain for cocktails in the 'Courtyard' on deck 14, an area usually reserved for the residents of the penthouse suites. Another contained a letter from the Hotel Director inviting us to have breakfast and lunch in the exclusive 'Star Lounge' for the remainder of the cruise. The final envelope contained a voucher for any of the speciality restaurants including a bottle of wine. We are being given the VIP treatment.
hecked with reception regarding a cruise map we'd partly organised during the first 7 day cruise. Our contact had gone on holiday but she'd left a note against our cabin number so there was no drama. The map shows the route of each cruise and an abbreviated log of the cruise. Normally they are one map per cruise but I'd arranged to have all three combined on one. No problem, it would be available in two or three days and it would be delivered in a mailing tube. Just as well because it would have been wrecked if we'd tried to pack it.

We had lunch in the Star Lounge, an experience far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Garden Cáfe. Excellent food, great choices on the menu and full silver service, but a bit sterile and lacking in atmosphere. We may try it again from time to time but didn't feel totally comfortable there. Nice to get the VIP treatment but a bit rich for our tastes.

There was a talk on Morocco and Casablanca by Gaby which has certainly whetted our expectations for tomorrow. There are conflicting opinions, some say the place is fantastic others claim it is not much better than Cairo. We'll go ashore and make up our own minds.

Gary provided an interesting half-hour lesson on how to survive in Spanish, his advise is similar to what he told us about Italian. Don't talk to them, don't let them talk to you – ask them to draw it on your map. Sounds good but it didn't work for us in Barcelona.

During the afternoon the land on our starboard side, Spain, showed snow-covered peaks. There has been some early heavy snow falls all over Europe. Tomorrow in Casablanca it is forecast to be 21, crazy temperatures.

After dinner we assembled in the stair-well on deck 13 mid-ship where the hostess escorted us up to deck 14 for the cocktail party. The courtyard is an area for the exclusive use of the high-rollers and comprises their own mini fitness centre, a pool and a hot tub all surrounded by comfortable lounges in a tropical setting. It was great to see how the other 5% live.

On return to the cabin we found a plate with chocolate dipped strawberries, complements of the Hotel Manager. It appears we are two of only seven people on board who are doing the three cruise back to back. Two Aussie couples and three Canadians.

Just after 8 pm we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, Europe to starboard and Africa to port.

Posted by greynomadm 13:28 Archived in Spain Comments (2)

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