Kuki's European Vacation - Part 4

| Wednesday, 23 Mar. 2005

Today's port of call is Vigo, on the Atlantic northern coast of Spain, in Galicia province. 

Its seaport is fairly modern and sits on Vigo Bay, a very deep water harbor 20 miles long and three miles wide.

We awoke to an eerie thick fog enveloping the ship, but by 11 a.m. it had burned off, and the weather turned ideal. The ship berthed right in town, so a self guided walking tour of this city is quite possible. But since this is a city of 300,000 people, don't expect to see more than a small piece of it.

The walk from the ship to "old town" is pretty much straight uphill, as the city is built on the sides of hills surrounding the harbor. Mrs Kuki and I trekked uphill into the city as far as The Citadel, called El Castro, one of three forts that guarded the town. Today it is a park, with excellent views of the city, the bay, and surrounding areas.

From there we explored side streets, getting a small glimpse of the life of the locals. Unlike Paris, with its many outdoor cafes, in Vigo we ran across many very small indoor bars, most with no more than a dozen seats. There's certainly no economy of scale in these places, which to our mind indicated a more closed social scene than that of the Parisians, who love to sit and see and be seen.

Mrs Kuki As we strolled, we stumbled across "main street," a small pedestrian mall with quite a number of shops and a few cafes. We saw a couple of street huskers, and Mrs. Kuki was replaced me with some clownbefriended by one clown, who provided us some entertainment.

She also managed to get into a shopping mode, picking up some shoes and a blouse by a local designer (or so they said). Unlike many cities in Europe there is no bargaining on prices here, but they were happy to take our Euros, or credit cards.

After about four hours, we returned to the ship to take part in a well known Spanish tradition, the siesta.

I had hoped to see a comedian scheduled for tonight's entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre, but closing down the dining room has become a nightly tradition, and tonight it was just us and the cleaning crew at the end. I think when we finally left the dining room it was 11:15. Tonight I had a bit of luck at the tables, so I was able to spend a couple of hours relaxing over the cards. Then it was off to bed to prepare for a busy day in Portugal.

To enter the port of Lisbon, ships proceed from the Atlantic Ocean up the River Targas. We sailed under the April 25th Bridge, the third largest suspension bridge in the world.

Cascais, Portugal

We had pre-booked a ship's tour to Sintra and Cascais in the morning, leaving some time to explore Lisbon in the afternoon. After the bus to Paris, I had forewarned Mrs. Kuki that if I saw the same miniscule seating on today's bus, I'd be walking on and walking right off. That was not the case this time. Today's tour buses were quite comfortable, and our bus had the most wonderful guide. Fernanda Duarte Feio has been guiding tours in this area for 42 years. Her appearance struck me as that of a stereotypical Portuguese woman. How I would even know what that is, is the puzzling part, since this is my first visit to the area.

Fernanda more a superlative storyteller than a typical guide, and this style made our time with her race by. Her wit is sharp and her sense of humor wonderfully twisted. I could have easily spent a full day listening to her spin her yarn. When I asked her to pose for a picture with me, she said, "For pictures you don't say cheese; you say Sex, because it puts a bigger smile on your face."

As we passed the huge statue of Jesus on the hill overlooking the harbor, she tried to help us understand how large this statue really is... so large that the middle finger on Jesus' hand is 6 ft. long.

As the bus made its way on the 18-mile trip from Lisbon to Sintra, Fernanda twigged our imaginations with her stories of the area. Sintra dates back to the 14th Century, and is located in the mountains north west of Lisbon. It's a quaint, lovely village, and the Sintra Palace lies in the main square. This served as the summer home of the kings of Portugal for six centuries.

While the exterior of the Palace does not stand out as particularly beautiful, the inside is quite another matter, with massive rooms, marble staircases, and a Moorish influence using beautiful mosaic tiles on many walls.

 

It's best described as a Spanish version of Leed's Castle in England, and just as impressive. It costs 3 Euros to do a self-guided tour.

We also had time to check out some of the local shops. Fernanda had us laughing again when she said prices in several stores along the "main street" of the town would likely all be very similar, because seven of the stores were owned by the same woman.

After leaving Sintra, we headed to the resort town of Cascias. While quite lovely, it was obvious that Cascais is like being in uptown Portugal, with many boutiques, hotels and bars. But some of the homes and hotels in Cascais and surrounding area are breathtakingly beautiful.

One odd thing we noticed on this tour was that many buildings and homes right along the sea, which we would have considered prime real estate in a resort area, were dilapidated and abandoned. I am not speaking of clapboard houses, but well-built brick structures, some with very ornate work on them, but with windows broken out and exteriors obviously left to the elements.

I returned to the ship, with my faith restored that ship's tours don't all have to be bad. This one was wonderful! The bus was as it should be, providing transportation to sites you get out and see, not just a viewing platform as you passed by.

 

Commercial Square - Lisbon

Mrs. Kuki and I climbed back onboard the Constellation long enough to grab a quick bite to eat, and then took advantage of Celebrity's free shuttle into Lisbon's center, a large square on the sea aptly called Commercial Square. We strolled along the pedestrian mall lined with shops selling of all kinds of goods, and many outdoor cafes.

 

Mrs. Kuki obviously has a thing for clowns. She has me, then she found one in Vigo, and now another today in Lisbon.

After taking in the sites for a couple of hours by foot, we headed back to Commercial Square and picked up the return free shuttle to the ship.

Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year(a significant religious holiday), and we noted in the Celebrity daily that a rabbi is onboard to conduct services for Jewish guests. We returned to the ship too late to attend, but we do think it's kind of Celebrity to provide this service for the Jewish passengers.

We're very excited about tomorrow's stop in Cadiz, Spain, for our tour to Seville.

To be continued...

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