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|Cunard Queen Victoria 2013
Mediterranean Discovery Cruise - Part 3
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The Rock of Gibraltar is one of the two Pillars of Hercules; the other is in Morocco, just opposite. Peaking at 425 metres, Gibraltar measures less than 3 square miles and is home to about 30,000 people.The strategic strait it controls links the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and is only 8 miles wide at its narrowest point. The territory has always been disputed. The British seized it from the Spanish in 1704 and there was a famous siege by a French-Spanish expedition from 1779 to 1783. During this time an extensive network of defensive galleries were hewn by hand, and these are open for visits.
This was our third visit to Gibraltar and again the Queen Victoria was only able to visit for the morning. There is not a lot to see in Gibraltar - the main attraction is normally the trip up the 'Rock' by cablecar or minibus. We did the trip by minibus the first time we came because the cablecar had long lines from the ship tours. It was very interesting and we visited the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, took photos across the straits and continued to St Michael's Cave which is 300 metres above sea level with an excellent display of stalagmites and stalactites as well as an enormous natural auditorium which is used for concerts. The highlight is meeting the famous monkeys, there are two colonies of this tail-less Barbary Macaques on Gibraltar. One group lives on the rock face - the other group live at the Apes Den near the top of the cable car. We also walked through the Great Siege Tunnels which were excavated during the Great Siege of 1779-1783 and form a most impressive defensive system. Leaving the tunnels there are spectacular views. We have added some pictures from that visit for completeness.
This visit was, of course, in December when Gibraltar should still have good weather but it was cloudy and dull, although the temperature was good. We arrived at 0800 but there was no urgency to go ashore, at least not until the shops had opened and the sun had risen. We walked towards town, passing a useful supermarket we did not remember from our previous visit. There is also a Morrison's, which has replaced the old Safeway. The Food Market was quiet and craft stalls were being set up in Casemates Square. We looked into the Gibraltar Crystal Glass factory, then strolled down the main shopping street, passing lots of shops selling duty free cigarettes, drinks, and souvenirs. There were camera and electronics shops, and some clothes shops including BhS and M&S. It is quiet early on Saturday morning.
Main Street has the important public and religious buildings – John Mackintosh Hall, the Cathedral of St Mary the Crowned, the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the Supreme Court, and the Convent which is the official residence of the Governor.
We finally reached the Trafalgar Cemetery, named after the casualties of the Battle of Trafalgar who were buried there; it is just outside the Southport Gates. A family of the famous Barbary Macaques had escaped from the Rock and were running over the Gates, pursued by two local environmental police with what appeared to be firecrackers who were trying to move them away from the city. We had almost reached the Cable Car station but had decided that we did not need to go up to the Top of the Rock again, so retraced our steps. Outside the Cathedral we found crowds of people and it was almost impossible to walk down the street. The bagpipe band of the Sea Scouts joined a small group dressed as old-fashioned soldiers with red jackets and carrying muskets, and with an enormous union flag. This procession marched down to Casemates Square where the leader of the soldiers went to the gate and returned shaking a large bunch of keys. We presume we were watching a re-enactment of the ceremony of the keys, which is said to take place twice each year. The new Governor had arrived by ship from the UK on 6 December, and we checked carefully that he was not involved.
While we had been exploring the local vintage car club had arrived in Casemates Square, including a Singer Gazelle convertible and a 1935 Morris 16.Sunday 8 December was at sea, and was the last formal night with our Senior Officers party followed by the traditional Gala menu where we always choose snails, lobster, beef wellington and creme brulee. The parade of chefs has replaced the parade of baked alaska, for safety reasons. Anyway it is a good idea to see the chefs who have worked so hard during the cruise, and to applaude their work.
This was our first visit to to La Coruna which is located on the top left corner of Spain, in Galicia. Our cruises next year are also going to La Coruna, and we wanted to get to know the town. It is also the port closest for tours to nearby Santiago di Compostela. La Coruna is smaller than Vigo, and is the second largest city in Galicia. It was the capital of Galicia from 1563 to 1982. We arrived at 0800 when sunrise was at 0856, so decided there was no need to rush out. La Coruna is called the 'Crystal City' because of the glass-enclosed balconies, miradores, of the 19th century buildings facing the habour and in the old town. By 0900 there was a golden glow on the buildings, and the temperature had risen sufficient that we were not going to freeze, although we still needed our New Zealand woolly hats and gloves. Our plan was to stroll around the old town, visit the main buidings marked on our tourist map, and then cross the isthmus to the other side and see the hotels and beaches. Our first target was to find the Castillo de San Anton, which we could see behind the ship, so we walked along the seafront promenade towards it. Unfortunately it was closed for visits on Monday. Indeed we later found that most of the tourist sites were closed, presumably out of season, but that the churches were open in the morning. Then everywhere in Spain closes from about 1230 until 1500.
Following the city wall led quickly to the Church of St Mary, the church of the sailors and traders guilds. In 1494 it became an Abbey. The next interesting area was the Plaza de Maria Pita, which was reached by descending lots of steps. It is a large square, presently full of children rides and a large conical Christmas tree. It was just possible to get a view of the City Hall, and the Church of St George in the far corner.
The map showed that it was not far to walk north to the beaches on the other coast, and see the Stadium on the far side of the Playa de Riazor. From the viewpoint down by the Hotel Riazor we could just see the top of the Torre de Hercules lighthouse. It is believed to be the only Roman lighthouse still in existence, and when we visit La Coruna next time we will go and try and climb up the steps for the magnificent views. We were now in the narrow shopping streets, but close to the Avenida de la Marina. Here there was another typical large silver conical Christmas tree, next to a weather column which also acted as a memorial. There were more glass-fronted balconies as we crossed the road to the Gardens of Mendes Nunez, and then walked to the ship which we could see ahead of us between the Kiosko Alfonso and La Terraza.
In the evening we went to the Chocolate and Ice Fantasia buffet in the Lido. This extravagansa followed a full dinner so we spent more time taking pictures than indulging. Usually we try to get to such displays early to get photographs but this time we were abit late and arrived at the time the Executive Chef was just about to introduce his team. The introduction to the many specialists always used totake plave on the Queen Elizabeth 2 and is a welcome introduction to the Queen Victoria. Much of the work going into the set pieces has always been done in the staffs own time. There were a series of ice carvings, sugar sculptures, fruit carvings as well as all the beautifully detailed cakes with flowers and little animals. For those who wished to indulge there were a number of hot belgium Chocolate dips and flambeed dishes as well as all the rich cakes. We will let the pictures speak for themselves.
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