The crossing of the Atlantic Ocean takes six days. It is a big ocean! For most of the way, a gentle swell accompanies us and we get into the rhythm of ship board life. It is a journey. The appearance of land, in the shape of the first of the Canary Islands, greets us in the early morning of the seventh day. We are heading for Tenerife, an outpost of Spain off the coast of Africa and a favourite holiday destination for many Europeans.
Approaching the island it’s immediately obvious that we are back in Europe albeit somewhat isolated off the west coast of Africa. Its volcanic origins show clearly as we approach. It’s interesting to see land after such a seemingly long time and I speculate what it must have been like for those explorers that went the other way with no real idea where they were going. Brave people!
We are not really very excursion minded people, and up to this point have avoided them with some zeal. However, part of the cruise package included three tours and the first of these happens today. After the requisite queue and allocation of sticky labels to identify which bus we belong to, we file down the gangway and onto the waiting bus.
This tour takes us out of the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, first to the botanical gardens and then to the small town of Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast of the island. It seems the botanical gardens are famous for the many sub-tropical plants that are able to grow here, and so the first stop on the tour bus is in front of the gates. Now inside, we find that there are a remarkable number of plants that we have growing in our garden at home. It is lush and green and we wander around for the allocated half an hour.
… and what’s more, the “looloos” are free, a fact told to us with great pride by our Spanish guide!
And so to Puerto de la Cruz with it’s narrow winding cobbled streets. Off the bus we all get. This is to be our first experience of following the tour leader. We are tempted to wander, but manage to discipline ourselves appropriately.
We wind our way up and down the cobbled streets like a tail following the number 21. Inside the church the tail bunches up before forming again as we leave.
The approach to Funchal, the capital of the Portugese island of Madeira is the most spectacular yet. The ship heads directly for the shore before performing a graceful pirouette at the last moment and reversing gently into it’s berth. The popularity of the island, as a place to live in the sun, is shown by the houses built high up onto the mountainside.
Another day, another tour. This is getting to be a habit. Today (another free tour) we are off to the highest sea cliff in Europe and a small seaside town called Ribeira Brava for some “free time”. Winding our way up through the hills, every possible space is cultivated. The terraces, with their rich volcanic soil, cascade down the hill sides. The main roads are well constructed with numerous tunnels, but the small roads are a different thing. I wouldn’t want to drive one of these huge buses around such tiny winding roads with all their blind bends.
Up and up we go up into the first clouds of our trip which blanket the tops of the hills.
So we move on to Ribeira Brava a small and rather unremarkable seaside town.
We finally arrive on mainland Europe, in the capital of Portugal, a world away from where we started in Cuba. No tour today (yay!) and so we wander off the ship which is moored right near the old city and set off up the hill to see what we can find.
It is Saturday and in the way of communities everywhere, the first thing we stumble into is a flea market. Stalls of every shape and size flow down the streets and through the squares of the old city.
We wander higher up the hill from the market through the winding streets until we reach the lookout and it’s panoramic view across the city.
We wander back down through the town after a thoroughly pleasant day … we like Lisbon!
Having arrived very early this morning, we missed the spectacular approach to the port. We get a glimpse of this as we make our way back to the ocean.
Our next stop is in the Spanish city of Vigo situated on the Atlantic Coast just north of the Portugese border. It is Sunday and in this very catholic country it is very quiet as we walk up through the city making for the castle at the top of the hill. We notice that while parts of the old city are still there, there has also been modern redevelopment in the heart of the old city and other parts are still in a very bad state of repair.
It’s spring in Europe and we have memories of childhood when the bare dark trees of winter explode in a mass of green. We remember when down on the ground wildflowers appeared and the warm spring sun bathed everything … occasionally … if you were lucky!
Reaching the castle on its hill we wander around in the warm sunshine enjoying the gardens within the old walls. The view across the city is interesting … some good and some not so good. The new council building for example.
As we walk back down to the harbour, we reflect on the public art and the sculptures that abound. No longer the statues of the rich but the workings of the imagination of artists.
Leaving Vigo, we set off for northern Europe and our next stop in France. But more of that later!