Welcome to our blog. We look forward to spending some time with you!
Welcome to our blog. We look forward to spending some time with you!
Key West, Florida
The first port-of-call on our cruise to Cuba was Key West. We docked at Mallory Square. Wall Street leads from the Square to Duval Street and along the way is the El Meson de Pepe Cuban Restaurant at the Cayo Hueso y Habana Historeum. Although founded in 1985, it exemplifies the historic connection between Key West and Cuba. Shipwrecks and their salvage created the first boom in Key West and attracted many settlers to the Island from Cuba. In the 1860s, the cigar industry with its many workers started a migration from Cuba to Key West. Soon, Key West became “Cigar City USA.” And remained so until a fire decimated the industry in 1886.
We walked over to the old Custom House where Seward Johnson’s sculpture “Unconditional Surrender” is displayed. I love Johnson’s work and, obviously, so do many others. Copies of this sculpture are installed all over the world! We first saw “Unconditional Surrender” in San Diego. It is also on display in New York. We were surprised to see it in Civitavecchia, Italy. But we considered it totally appropriate in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu. Other locations include Hamilton, New Jersey; Caen, France; Sarasota, Florida; Royal Oak, Michigan and Bastenaken, Belgium.
We continued along Duval Street to 428 Greene St. where Captain Tony’s Saloon is located. Here, many famous people such as Truman Capote, John F. Kennedy, and Harry Truman enjoyed a drink or two. Barstools are named for these famous patrons. There is even a life-sized statue of Ernest Hemingway. Jimmy Buffett got his start here and still comes by occasionally (but he will not perform here anymore; that is something he only does at his own Margaritaville Café around the corner!) This building has a long and interesting history. Constructed in 1852 as an ice house, it also doubled as the city morgue. In 1898, it was the telegraph station that reported to the world the sinking of the USS Maine. In 1912, it was a cigar factory. For the next 21 years it housed a couple of bars, a bordello, and a series of speakeasies. Then, in 1933, Josie Russell created Sloppy Joe’s Bar. It became a favorite hang-out of Ernest Hemingway. As a matter of fact, Hemingway suggested the name based on the original Sloppy Joe’s in Havana. When the landlord raised the rent, Russell and his customers picked up the entire bar and transported everything to Sloppy Joe’s current location at 201 Duval Street.
Before returning to the ship, we deemed it necessary to have a Margarita, on the rocks, at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Café. A stop at the gift shop followed.
Sailing out of Tampa
Before boarding the Empress of the Seas for our adventure to Havana, we spent a couple of days in Tampa, Fl. Our goal was to visit the neighborhood of Ybor City. Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor, Ybor City is a unique example of successful immigrant assimilation.
Ybor, was a prominent cigar manufacturer in Cuba. He moved his factory from Cuba to Key West in 1869 during political turmoil in the then-Spanish colony. But soon, desiring to establish his own “company town” with room for growth and expansion, he bought 40 acres of land northeast of Tampa; built hundreds of small pre-fab houses (precursor to the Sears house kits?) to attract skilled Cuban cigar makers; and welcomed other cigar manufacturers, eventually making Tampa a major cigar manufacturing hub. The humid climate, nearby port and Henry Plant’s new railroad line contributed to the success of Ybor city.
Further contributing to its success were the European immigrants from Sicily, Germany, and Romania. The Chinese came, also! Together, they built a real town. The Germans were managers, bookkeepers, and supervisors. It was the German immigrants who not only designed and created the cigar labels but also built the factories to produce the wooden cigar boxes. The Italians came and started small businesses such as bakeries, cafes, restaurants, food stores and boarding houses. The Romanians and Chinese were adept at the service trade and retail sales.
The city peaked in 1929. And then the Depression came. It wasn’t until 50 years later that artists and entrepreneurs came back to Ybor City. Today tourism flourishes. Hotels, restaurants, and shopping are in abundance.
A point of interest is the Parque de Jose Marti. It is owned by the Cuban government and enjoys status similar to embassies and consulates!
Next port-of-call is Key West, Florida.
Crossing the Atlantic
Every evening, before retiring for the night, we find a schedule of the next days’ activities in our mail slot. There is something (often many things) to do every hour of every day! Tai Chi, yoga, exercise & fitness in the gym or in the pool, sports, arts & crafts, bridge games and tournaments, board games, puzzles, lectures, passenger talent shows, choral, casino gambling, movies, book club, spa treatments, salon services, cooking demos, celebrity chef cooking classes & luncheons, mixology lectures & wine tastings, afternoon tea, dance lessons, ballroom dancing, evening DJ dancing, floral arranging classes, jewelry-making classes, computer classes, photography classes, reading, shopping, ship’s tours, eating and drinking and being merry! It should not be possible to get bored. But, you know, we often do! You feel confined on sea days. Even though you can go out and walk laps around the deck, you KNOW you’re stuck in this finite space. Sometimes, we just sit in the barco, watch the world go by, and take a nap!
Wednesday, we arrive in Ft. Lauderdale. Thank you for following this journey with us. We’ve enjoyed your company! Let’s do it again, soon!
Preparing to Transit the Atlantic Ocean
I apologize! I’m really, tardy in posting the last ports-of-call. The hold-up with Cadiz is simply due to the fact we’ve been here so many times that we tend to treat each return like being home. So, this time, we simply took a cab to the department store, El Corte Inglais, and started with a cappuccino at the café. After doing some normal shopping, we went back downtown and grabbed lunch at a local fast food restaurant. We were there the day before Easter and the downtown area was preparing for a celebratory procession. All the cafes were full with anticipatory revelers. The squares were filling up with kiosks and hawkers pushing their wares. It was all festive and fun. We simply enjoyed the pleasure of being there! And that was pretty much “IT” for Cadiz. As we returned to the ship, we could see all the provisions lined up and waiting to be stowed for the upcoming Transatlantic crossing. I’ve taken the liberty of including some old photos we have of Cadiz just to show you how beautiful it is. There are Roman ruins, museums, cathedrals, parks, beaches, and so much more. This is one of our favorite ports!
On the other hand, Casablanca not so much! We started coming to Morocco about 30 years ago, and have watched changes take place. It’s not all good. On this visit, we didn’t even leave the ship. But we certainly could have visited the Souk with its marvelous leather vendors selling beautiful jackets, wallets, bags, etc. that were once produced in Morocco for fashion houses such as Cartier and Chanel. The quality is still evident. And the prices are outstanding! The spice and olive markets are my favorites! Side trips to Fez, Rabat or Marrakech are exciting and exotic. The old Mdinas are mysterious and confusing. Carpets are still hand-made, but it’s getting harder to find them as machine-made is ubiquitous! However, the ceremony surrounding a carpet purchase remains the same. Copious amounts of tea are consumed and hours of pleasant conversation are spent before the deal is sealed and the carpet is folded into an amazingly compact “package” that is easy to carry and transport. Of course, a visit to Rick’s Café is always nice. And it is very close to the port. Rick’s was never anything more than a set on a Hollywood move lot until an enterprising American member of the diplomatic corps had the idea to replicate the Café in Casablanca. A faithful reproduction ensued. Rick’s Café is now a pleasant stop for lunch or a drink or to simply sit for a while and watch the movie, Casablanca, play on a continuous loop.
Funchal, on the island of Madeira is almost always a cruise ship’s last port before transiting the Atlantic. Madeira was discovered in the 15th century by two Portuguese sea captains blown off-course. Joao Goncalves Zarco and Tristao Vaz Teixeira were sent by Prince Henry the Navigator to explore the west coast of Africa. When they approached the large, forested island they named it Madeira (which means wood in Portuguese) and claimed it for Portugal. Prince Henry immediately sent colonists to the island (most of them coming from the Algarve region of Portugal. Today, the climate and beauty of the island attracts more than a million visitors annually. And we are two of the happy visitors who love coming to this beautiful island! The following photos will tell the rest of the story.
Now, we are “at sea” transiting the Atlantic on our way back to the United States. The journey comes to an end.
The first aerial attack on La Barceloneta occurred on March 16, 1937. On October 1, 1937, Italian planes, flying low, approached Barcelona, dropped their bombs on Barceloneta and then strafed the local population killing 55 and wounding 87. Eighteen buildings were destroyed including a school. Barceloneta was attacked again on January 7, 1938. And, again, on September 16, 1938. The Mercato Barceloneta was hit, killing 34 and wounding 124. There is a memorial at the entrance to the market today. Most attacks were conducted by the Italians (113 missions in all) but the Germans also participated (with 80 missions of their own.) La Barceloneta was a strategic target because of its location on the coast near the port, the railway, and the gas plant. This is also notable because it is the first time a major city was hit with systematic bombings against all manner of targets—including the civilian population! The bombing of September 16, 1938 took place while Chamberlain and Hitler resolved negotiations regarding the Sudetenland. This attack nearly started WWII since a British ship was hit in the Barcelona port; but these attacks had nothing to do with WWII. They were conducted on behalf of Franco. Both Germany and Italy supported him in hopes of gaining his support later. But he kept Spain neutral. That was surely a major disappointment to both Mussolini and Hitler!
On our second day in Barcelona we visited Mercato Barceloneta. It is a bustling and lively market. Foodstuffs are inside and clothing, housewares, etc. circle the outer perimeter. We had coffee at El Guindilla and watched the pedestrians on the huge market square. We were told the square is full of revelers on summer evenings! We walked through Barceloneta and wound up at Maian’s Restaurant at the marina for a wonderful paella lunch! At the end of the marina, we found an outdoor market and the Emperado Restaurant where we enjoyed tea and a unique ice cream called Blueberry with Cheese. Quite tasty! And quite an interesting day!
Barcelona is a huge city with a village feel! There are neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and rhythm. Every time we visit Barcelona, we try to explore something new or different. But, of course, going back to favorite places is an irresistible draw—one we cannot always overcome! I’m including photos of Montjuic, Las Rambla, Mercato Boqueria, Casa Batllo by Gaudi, and Parc Guell because they are iconic places to visit in Barcelona. But we have enjoyed so many, many more wonderful things to see and do! I’d have to publish a book to tell you about them all!
On this visit, day 1, we started out with the idea of seeing Casa Fuster. Casa Fuster was designed, in 1908, by Louis Domenech i Montaner, a Catalan architect known for his Modernist work. The Casa Fuster was a gift from Senor Mariano Fuster to his wife, Consuelo Fabra i Puig. At the time, it was considered the most expensive house in the city. Only the highest quality materials (such as white marble) were used in the construction. The house was designed with 3 facades and stood on a corner lot. The center section is a rounded projection. The building was purchased by the Hoteles Center chain in 2000. By 2004, the renovated structure opened its doors as a testament to the art of Montaner and a welcome hotel to grace the Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona. You can imagine the disappointment when we discovered that, once again, Casa Fuster is swathed in scaffolding! It is under renovation! Woe was me! At least, the interior was intact and the Café Vienes is open and operating as a Jazz Club.
Casa Fuster is located on Passeig de Gracia, a lovely area filled with great architecture, ubiquitous cafes and charming boutiques. We walked along the Passeig and made our way to Rambla de Catalunya (another pedestrian avenue above the Plaza Catalunya where the Las Rambla ends.) We stopped frequently to eat and drink along the way! It was a most pleasant day.
I’ll close this with a really, funny photo of a “tricked-out” smart car!
The first thing you see when sailing into Palma de Mallorca is the 14th century Castillo de Bellver. Built upon the ruins of a muslim site, it now houses an archeological museum. Next, the Catedral de Mallorca, La Seu, comes into view. This was built atop a mosque and is a spectacular site dominating the coastline! We cabbed it to a spot above the cathedral where we could have coffee in a lovely al fresco café with a bit of a view of the cathedral. Later, after watching a protest march go by, we continued our exploration. We walked over to La Rambla de Palma with its horse-drawn carriages and then to Passeig des Born. Both are pleasant areas filled with charming cafes and boutiques. We decided to have lunch in the Plaza Mayor where we could enjoy the festive market. As we then headed back to the ship, we passed some interesting art work that grabbed our attention! Soon, crossing the Sa Riera, we noticed the La Palma windmills, quite similar to those in Mykonos, and realized it truly is a small world!