Variety Cruises – Glories of Spain & Portugal: Part 2

The monkey and the crocodile

There can’t be many better ways to greet the day than to have breakfast al fresco on Panorama II and watch a magnificent sunrise (see picture). Sunrise breakfastYou’ll also be delighted to learn that our arrival in Gibraltar was accompanied by clear heads and bright eyes following last night’s party (weren’t we good boys and girls). Moored on the other side of the dockside pathway to Ventura, our 50m motorsailer looked like a toy in comparison to P&O’s massive ship. Sun Deck - Panorama IINonetheless Panorama II was getting plenty of admiring looks for its sleek lines and tall masts, as thousands of passengers poured off the big ship.

Our comprehensive tour on a small bus took in most of the main sights, including the impressive St Michael’s cave. Thought to be bottomless by the Romans it actually winds down about 700 feet and nature has worked its magic over thousands of years for a truly impressive display of stalagmites and stalactites. The caves have music and are lit to give maximum impact and dramatic effect but the preoccupation with a dazzling blue light makes getting decent photos difficult. The famous Barbary Apes, which are actually Macaques (macaca sylvanus), came to greet us as we exited the cave. Our experience in Borneo taught us that Macaques are the consummate bandits, so we made sure we didn’t have any food on display or in our bags (it’s actually illegal to feed them). Barbary ApesThey were very well behaved though, with quite a few nursing mothers, and their serenity allowed us to loiter unmolested over the spectacular views of Gibraltar, mainland Spain, the African coast and the waters of the Mediterranean.

The Rock is said to be honeycombed with 35 miles of tunnels and we visited the WWII tunnels that were excavated during 1939 and 1944 as an extension of the great siege tunnels. An impressive feat of engineering by the Royal Engineers and their Canadian counterparts, the tunnels were never used in anger against a real attack on The Rock. A balcony outside one of the tunnels did provide an excellent vantage point, however, for us to watch the easyJet flight take off along the runway that crosses the main road.

St Michael's CaveAfter a leisurely lunch back onboard (my lamb was so tasty and tender), it was time to move to the Sun Deck. Our post lunch desire was to merely grab a lounger and sunbathe, read and recharge our batteries for tomorrow’s excursion.

Think of Seville and you probably think of oranges or marmalade, but we quickly learned that it is a treasure trove of things to see and admire. Even the 40C heat could not blunt our enthusiasm to see as much as we could on this excursion. The jewel in the crown must be the Cathedral. The architects said they would build it so big and magnificent that future generations would think them mad. Well these crazies certainly took on one of the most ambitious medieval projects and succeeded in constructing the largest gothic cathedral in the world. The nave and Christopher Columbus’ tomb are two of the many highlights we were able to feast our eyes on, whilst our guide whispered a string of interesting facts into our personal earpieces (although I still think the crocodile hanging overhead was a bit strange even after the explanation). 

Christopher Columbus' TombThe Alcazar has been re-modelled many times over the centuries but we could still see the heavy moorish theme to the architecture. Still a royal palace and a place of many wonders, we loved the Patio of the Maidens with its arches and intricate plasterwork reflected in the central pool. 

Our tour through the Jewish quarter gave us the opportunity for a rest stop and to partake of a refreshing beer and sangria in a beautiful old square. With trees providing dappled shade and brightly coloured mosaic benches adding character, this was a tranquil rest stop for locals and tourists alike. AlcazarThe comedy moment was provided when the ladies’ sangria arrived in pints rather than the expected modest glass (none got left though). The Plaza de Espana is hard to describe in a few words. Built for the 1929 Expo to showcase Spain’s industry and technology exhibits, it’s a mixture of columns, arches, mosaics, towers, bridges and horse drawn carriages that clip clop over cobblestones around the central fountain. You really just have to see this for yourself. Seville proved to be one of those places where a day trip is merely a taster and we will be back for a more extensive visit. 

After a truly brilliant day there was time to shower and change before heading back to the Sun Deck. It’s a fantastic place to take the cocktail of the day, be served caviar canapes and watch the sun set as the white sails billow in a gentle breeze. Our BBQ dinner that evening turned into another impromptu party on the main deck. What a privilege it was for our small group of many nationalities to dance the night away on an intimate dance floor, as we sailed to our next port with a cooling breeze in our hair, in the middle of the ocean.

Silver Travel Advisor recommends Variety Cruises

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Steve Aldridge

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