Wednesday, 5 October: Last morning in Lisbon, we found a sidewalk cafe for croissants and coffee. I did a bit of computer work, then we checked out of the hotel and taxied to the cruise ship.
We’re on an Oceania cruise this time; our two previous cruises, to Alaska in 2008 and Hawaii in 2010, were on Norwegian. When we planned this cruise I’d thought the Oceania ships were somewhat smaller and more exclusive. Turns out this Oceania ship, Marina, is virtually identical to the Norwegian ships we’ve been on; apparently, I’ve gathered, the two companies are the same at some level. The difference between those earlier cruises and this one is that this is geared toward adults, without activities or events for children, and so there are virtually no children, or hardly couples under 40, in view. It’s a boatload of geriatrics…
The ship is well-furnished, with the usual buffets and specialty restaurants, bars, a small casino, a spa and workout area, and a quite decent library. The library has the usual array of bestsellers, but also shelves of classics, travel books, quite a bit of fiction, with a smattering of SF. There are even two Greg Egan books! (OCEANIC and ZENDEGI.) And recent nonfiction from my own shelves, by Shermer, Wilczek, Mlodinow, Hidalgo. The ship also has a DVD library with several hundred selections.
We booked with a promotional package that includes free wi-fi — but it turns out the free wi-fi applies to only one device *at a time*. Between us, Yeong and I have five devices, two laptops and three iPhones. So we alternate, which can be irritating. An extra paid account runs almost $1/minute.
We’re in a different port every day on this cruise.
Thursday, 6 October, was Cádiz, a Spanish port city west of Gibraltar, that sits on a spit of land shaped like a fishhook, once an island but now connected by narrow peninsula to the mainland. We booked a “highlights of” excursion that drove us around the area in a bus before we disembarked to walk among the narrow streets, browsing through the city museum, and being set free to do some shopping. The town has its cathedral, ruins of a Roman theater, still being excavated, and the familiar cobblestone streets.
Friday, today the 7th, we’re in Málaga, note the accent on the first syllable, a larger port city east of Gibraltar — and since we sailed overnight, we had no chance to see the big rock as we cruised by. We didn’t book an excursion here; we wandered the city on our own, with a map and advice from an advisor on the boat. The city is famous as Picasso’s birthplace, and has a decent if small Picasso museum. As in Lisbon there’s a castle, the Castle of Gibralfaro, and below it a large palatial fortification called the Alcazaba, a vast maze of stairs, open courtyards, and enclosed rooms running half-way up the hill — though without any way out at the top to continue on to the castle! We had to descend through the maze and find a parallel road from the bottom to make the not inconsiderable climb up to the castle (only to discover a bus can take you were via a back road). Gibralfaro is larger than the Lisbon castle if more of a shell, without much detail, but offers spectacular views of the coast and city in every direction.
And Malaga has a cathedral, and a roman theater (in much better shape than the one in Cadiz) and narrow streets full of shops and sidewalk dining, and street vendors selling almonds. We had lunch in a crowded plaza across from the theater and beneath the Alcazaba. (Note again: a tiny cafe at the castle called itself a bar and serves hard liquor; the sidewalk lunch spot had a considerable bar, outside by the tables and umbrellas.)
We changed time zones between Portugal and Spain, losing an hour. Sunrise this morning was at 8:30! Maybe that’s one reason people rise late, lunch late, and dine late…