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Cunard Queen Victoria 2014
Christmas Cruises - Part 5

Map In Transit at Southampton and three days at sea La Coruna - Spain - for the second time and a day at sea Madeira - Portugal Lanzarote - missed because of gales La Palma Tenerife
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Santa Cruz, Tenerife - Monday 22nd December

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands. We arrived in Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, in the dawn at 0800. By 0845 we had breakfast and were on our way as the first rays of sunshine came through the clouds hit the ship. The original plan was to catch the shuttle bus to the port gates near the underpass to the Plaza de Espana but it looked an easy walk although we were not berthed as close as in 2010. We walked through the Plaza Espana which was deserted. The large monument in the centre of the Plaza de Espana is the Monumento de los Caidos and commemorates the dead of the Civil War in 1936-39. Facing the square and its large shallow pool is the government building. It was a 35 minutes walk from the port to the bus station; we planned to spend the day at the tourist resort of Puerto de la Cruz, on the north coast. There is a non-stop service, number 103 Direct, which costs 5.40 Euros each way if you pay on the bus, or 3.45 by using the Bono card. The cheapest costs 15 euros and you put them in a machine which physically stamps them when you get on the bus and they can be used for several people on the same trip by inputting them multiple times.

The bus left at 0950 and by 1030 we were at the bus station in Puerto de la Cruz near the Dania Park and Florida Hotels. We even got a good views of El Teide which is often hidden by cloud. The volcano of El Teide is the highest mountain in Spain at 12,198 feet. The old castle by the black sandy beach is still there and the beach had been tidied and upgraded. We had spent many happy holidays in the town and it has not changed very much over the years, except that more hotels and apartments had been built near the bus station, and there was an enormous car park by the ocean. Nearer to town, the old Chapel of San Francisco, built between 1599 and 1608, had been restored in 1986. The old hotels and the shops were still in the same places but no flower sellers at this time of year. We walked past the fishing harbour and along the promenade and watched a few people swimming despite the surf pounding in and the cold sea before continuing past the Lido Martianez with its swimming pools. We passed the Hotel Tenerife Playa where we usually stayed when we came to Puerto de la Cruz in the 1970s - the hotel is a good 4* and now part of the H10 group.

We went back to the Hotel Marquesa where we knew they had an excellent local rabbit dish with the little wrinkled local potatoes on the menu (€9.50) to which we added half litre of the house red (€4). We ate outside although there is always a risk of people smoking which we minimised by taking a corner. We continue to be impressed with the hotel; it was built in 1712 and the main part is in the traditional Canarian design with a central courtyard. It was renovated in 1995 but without destroying the old character. There are now 137 rooms, most with balconies, and the new extension can be seen rising behind the original building. Prices were still reasonable the last time we checked, with a double outside room B&B generally at 65 euros in 2013, but rising to 83 euros at Christmas and New Year. Half board is only an extra 4.5 euros and full board 7.5 euros per person. We would stay there if we came on holiday to Puerto de la Cruz.

We looked into the church of Our Lady of La Pena de Francia opposite. It was built between 1684 and 1697 and a leaflet explained the extensive restoration work since 2008. All the statues of the Virgin Mary are clothed in the Canaries, and this was no exception. We were a bit late to climb up the hill to the Botanical Gardens, an old favourite but we did go last time although it would have been nice to see what progress had been made with the plans to treble the size of the garden to 60,000 sq metres.

We had no particular plans for shopping, although there were lots of interesting shops, so we sat for a while in the sun and walked back to catch the 103 bus back to Santa Cruz, we just got to the 1600 as the doors were closing. There would otherwise have been a slower 102 Express which stops more often on a route that takes it into the university town of La Laguna. It makes a good day trip, and the bus service generally in Tenerife is very good. Although Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, it is approximately triangular in shape and only 795 sq miles and so the distance from Santa Cruz to the south coast and the town of Los Christianos is not great making another possible destination for a day trip. The bus only takes about an hour. We have even heard of passengers who have done a complete circuit of the island during the day. In addition to buses there is a tram service from the bus station interchange terminus in Santa Cruz which goes to La Laguna which we will try next visit.

Overall an excellent day with plenty of time in Puerto de La Cruz and we got back early enough to walk up through the main shopping street of Santo Cruz which was the only area which had any significant Christmas decorations - quite different to Madeira. It was an interesting mix of the new and the old. One interesting building we found off to the side was the Circulo de Amistad Xii de Enero, a recreational society founded in 1903 which has an eclectic style and seems to have come about following the amalgamation of three societies (Gentlemen's Clubs??). We looked across at the Opera House which seems to be modeled on the one in Sydney but were running out of time and light. We walked back to the port gates and caught the free shuttle bus back to the Queen Victoria which departed at 20.00.

La Palma - Tuesday 23rd December

The Canary Island of La Palma is just 80nm to the west of Tenerife. We first visited it in 1988 on the Orient Express cruise and had enjoyed our visit. We had then taken a tour into the centre of the island and admired the volcanic craters, so this visit we wanted to explore the city of Santa Cruz instead. Santa Cruz is said to be the second largest city of the island, and is the capital. The city was founded in 1493 and by the 17th century it was a flourishing commercial port and the third most important in the Spanish empire. Famous fortifications include the Castillo de Santa Catalina and Castillo de la Virgen on the northern end of town.

The Tourist Information Office provided a walking map of Santa Cruz and gave a lot of useful advice on what to see and what to visit during our walk, last visit we had a real enthusiast who gave us a lot of advice and information whilst a long queue built up. Although Santa Cruz is recommended for shopping, we were more interested in visiting the historic sites and churches and admiring the old buildings. The weather was perfect. We strolled slowly along the main street, O'Daly Street, named after an Irish merchant. Recommended sights were the Casa Salazar, the City Hall and Cathedral in the Plaza Espana but our advice from the tourist office had been to also look at all the other buildings and if any door was open to go and look inside, we followed this advice and did not actually get ejected from anywhere including the City Hall.

The town hall was completed in 1567. The main facade on two floors is held to be the best example of civil Renaissance architecture of the Canary Islands. The interior was renovated in the mid-twentieth century has a mural in the stairwell due to Valladolid Mariano de Cossio. We admired the magnificent paintings up the stairs and we even got into the 'Council Chamber' which seemed to have two functions run from different ends and had some magnificent carvings on the old woodwork and doorway. Moorish patterns decorate the ceilings and staircase of the the lobby and outside round the courtyard.

We also worked our way into the Casa Salazar where we found a reception desk hidden inside and they were happy for us to look round the courtyard and some exhibitions. The Casa Salazar was built by Don Ventura Salazar Frias, field master, Knight of the Order of Calatrava and ruler of Palma Council between 1631 and 1642. It exhibits some of the most characteristic elements of Baroque including helical shafts in two pairs of columns and friezes both decorated with rosettes, a central balcony with wrought iron railing and and many magnificent wood ceilings. Today, the Casa Salazar is owned by the Cabildo Insular de La Palma, who restored the building to provide the cultural center of the island. Conferences, meetings and exhibitions are held throughout the year.

We spent time looking at a temporary exhibit featuring Delft Blue tiles. The main trade in La Palma 500 years ago was sugar and molasses and the, otherwise empty, ships brought back luxury goods, sculptures, paintings and Delft Tiles to decorate the mansions and haciendas of the exporters and the churches. They were also used to decorate the bell tower of the Dominican Convent to give a splendid finish with flashes of light reflecting of the shiny white porcelain. Some of these are still in place and feature in the exhibition. We later went to see the tower and without the background information would not have noticed the few and very damaged remaining tiles.

We continued past more historic houses and shops to the junction at the Placeta del Borrero. It was already quieter as most people don't walk too far from the ship, and the cobbles made it difficult. Looking down from either end of O'Daly St it looked as if all the tourists had settled at the lowest point where a number of bars and cafés had opened to exploited the phenomenon. Continuing towards the end of the road, and noting a supermarket for shopping on the return route, we made the detour to the Castillo de Santa Catalina. It had been closed in 2013 and still seemed to be closed due to building work. Chaps were however on top of the roof of the entrance, fixing new roof tiles and they waved us to enter when we looked through the gate. There is not very much to see but the views towards the ocean are good. The road continues towards the Castillo de la Virgen, where there had been a good view from the top. The entrance was closed and so we did not climb up the hill. Below us the concrete and scumbled (wood grained) copy of the Santa Maria was open, and it contains the Maritime Museum.

Every 5 years there is a festival with a procession of "Dwarves" and in 2013 we purchased a CD of festival music which celebrated 100 years of these festivals in 2005. There was still the ice cream parlour in the Plaza de la Alameda and a large statue of a Dwarf looking down on where we sat.

After a short stop to buy some of the local goat cheeses and taste the refreshing sugarcane juice in the market we looked for other museums.

The Church of St Francis of Assisi and the Immaculate Conception was in a Square which included the Chapel and the Insular Museum. Again there was a charge for Museum entry, but it was free for old folks and there was a lot to see inside. The church was free and we were glad we had visited it first; after we left the museum there was a funeral taking place. Unfortunately the chapel was closed; we remembered an excellent 'tour' of the chapel by the gentleman who was keeping an eye on the valuable artifacts - he had spent 20 years in Nottingham and had been keen to keep his English up as he also taught English. The statue of St Francis, dating from 1593 and behind the altar in the church is carried through the streets on a large silver canopied bier which was stored in the chapel.

The narrow road continued uphill towards the Hermit church and the viewpoint over the port. It was then the walk down the 165 steps to the main road and back towards the ship, resisting the temptation for a beer like on route. On the way down we once more found an open door and went into the Royal Cosmological Society and saw some of the original maps and an exhibition on Esperanto and its translation into Spanish. The building was originally a granery dating to 1646 and the Cosmological was founded in 1881 and is the most enduring and important scientific istitution in La Palma.

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