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Freighter Trip to the Mediterranean -- Part II

Author: DocJohnB (More Trip Reviews by DocJohnB)
Date of Trip: May 2006

That evening at supper was the first opportunity for all the old and new passengers to get together and get to know each other. This evening would find them all to be delightful individuals. The two couples were closest to me and we were able to talk quite a bit. Luckily Peer spoke fair English and he acted as translator. Alain was not as conversant, but with the help of a translation book and Peer's help, we also were able to keep up a conversation. Neither of the ladies spoke English, but once again Peer's translation efforts paid off. Both Pierre's were bi-lingual and conversation with them was easy. All in all it was an eclectic group that met daily in the dining room.

The next day Peer asked to join me on my walk. We walked together for awhile but it soon became apparent that he could not keep up with me. He told me to go on ahead. I would pass him a couple of times during the walk. Young Pierre was a jogger and he zipped by me twice during my walk. This would be our routine for the remainder of the voyage (except for rough seas days). Peer and I quickly became friends and we correspond to this date. I have also had correspondence with young Pierre.

Valencia, Spain (14-15 May 2006)

We were due to arrive in Valencia around 3 p.m. on Sunday the 14th of May and indeed we did. Unfortunately we were made to drop anchor and lay to off the port for 3 or 4 hours. Although we were never given the official reason for this, we passengers suspected it had to do with the America's Cup challenges that were being held that day. The Luis Vitton Cup and the America's Cup will be contested off Valencia next spring but there apparently a number of challenges contested prior to that in the waters off Valencia. After watching some of the action thru binoculars throughout the afternoon, we upped anchor about 7 p.m. and were dockside about 9 p.m. We knew this day was shot as it would take another hour for customs and immigrations to clear the ship. So we made plans to visit the city the next day.

Our original plan had been to get a cab to the central city where we could get a tourist bus (12 Euro) and enjoy a 2 hour tour of the city. But once again, the vagaries of this type of travel jumped up and bit us. We were informed we had to be back on board at noon for a 1 p.m. departure. After breakfast in the morning 6 of us headed off to the port entrance where taxis had been arranged to take us into town for a visit. On arrival at the entrance, we discovered only one taxi. That driver made a call for another taxi and we decided to split up. Young Pierre would accompany Karen and Patty, while I would join with Peer and Chantal for the day. The other group got the first cab and we awaited the 2nd one. Fifteen minutes later a cab pulled into some office spaces across the entrance from us and dropped off a passenger. As he was leaving, I waved to get his attention and he came up to us. He was not the cab who was called for us (but he was supposed to be there in 5 minutes). Again the language barrier was raised, but fortunately, Peer could speak a little Spanish, so we got by once again. We hopped in the cab with Peer in front (so he could converse safely with the driver) and Chantal and I in back. Then enjoy the day and catch a cab back. The ride was about 20 minutes. Ten minutes into the ride, Peer turns and asks me if we should try to hire him for a couple of hours. Why not? A price of 20 Euro per person was agreed upon and the driver Luis led us on a nice but quick tour of the city. We stopped for half an hour at a beautiful square (?? Del la Ria). The square was surrounded by apartments, restaurants, a beautiful Catholic church and various buildings. It was the feast day for the church and the square was gaily decorated in anticipation of the celebration to be held later that day. We enjoyed a coffee (beer for Chantal), then walked around and enjoyed the time, the place and each other's company for two hours then headed back to the ship. On arrival back at the port we tip Luis 5 Euro each for his wonderful service. Unlike the morning when we had to walk from the ship to the port entrance, as soon as we got inside the port a bus picked us up and we were whisked back to the ship.

After lunch, I headed to my cabin for an afternoon siesta. When I awoke about 3 p.m. (expecting to be at sea), we were still tied up. Nothing new! I was just a little miffed and headed up to the bridge. The captain quickly noticed that I was upset and drew me out on the bridge, where he explained that the port agent had screwed up as to departure time and soon after we left the ship that morning, it had been determined that we would not depart until 6 p.m. We could have had 3 or 4 more hours to explore this beautiful city. Flexibility. We did depart Valencia at 6 p.m. and watched some of the racing yachts on our way out. We would be in Lisbon in a day and a half. Hopefully we would have some quality time in that port, but I was not going to hold my breath.

The next day while still in the Mediterranean, the seas were calm. About 10:30 I was in my stateroom working on my Bunka project. I got up to stretch and looking out my porthole, I noticed a disturbance in the calm waters. It was a large school of dolphin cavorting off our port beam. I don't think I am exaggerating when I say there had to be hundreds. (I later looked this up on the internet and confirmed that they would travel in groups this size where they are called herds or aggregations) I headed up to the bridge and grabbed a set of the always present binoculars and watched in amazement as it became apparent that this school was even bigger than I thought. It appeared to stretch the entire length of the ship and out a hundred yards or so. It was huge. They hung with the ship awhile then disappeared. Some of the other passengers had seen them as I knocked on some doors on my way up to the bridge.

Later that day we headed back thru the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic, but because of the heavy haze there is really nothing to write about, so I won't.

Immediately on departing the Mediterranean, the seas picked up and white caps appeared. We ran in these seas until suppertime when once again the seas calmed down to a gentle flow.

That evening Peer, Chantal, young Pierre and I sat around for over an hour after dinner just getting to know each other. We had a few glasses of wine (too many) and Claudio fixed us a couple of drinks (citrus mix and chilled vodka (almost a slush). Afterward Chantal, Peer and I adjourned to the lounge where she brought a bottle of vodka and we commiserated for a while longer over screwdrivers. Needless to say, I did not exercise the next morning. It was a most pleasant evening spent with a most pleasant couple.

The next morning as we steamed towards Lisbon, Alain, Peer, young Pierre and I were given a approximately two hour tour of the engine spaces conducted by the 2nd Engineer. I am an absolute zero when it comes to things mechanical and his English was not to good, so I did not know all that I was looking at. Nevertheless, I was impressed by what I saw. Remember that the ship is almost 30 years old yet the spaces were clean and extremely well maintained. The spaces are huge. They run the entire length and breadth of the "castle" and extend 5 decks below the main deck. Like most engine spaces on ships, they were quite warm (but not as uncomfortable as on some Navy ships). There was an air conditioned space for doing paperwork, etc. After the tour I was talking with the Captain and he told me that when we were in port in New York a prospective buyer was coming onboard to take a look-see to buy the ship for scrap.

Lisbon, Portugal (18 May 2006)

Finally, a port with quality time to enjoy. When I awoke in the morning and made my way to the bridge, I could see land dead ahead maybe 10-12 miles away. Even though we were moving slowly, I was told that we would be tied up shortly. Ahhhhh, but once again, the gods of freighter travel intervened. After breakfast I noticed that we were stopped dead in the water. Up to the bridge and no explanation. But, it soon became apparent just why we were stopped. A formation of Portuguese warships was slowly making it way out of the port of Lisbon. There were 2 frigates followed by an oiler/supply vessel which in turn was followed by one last frigate. Almost immediately after they past us, we started up again and were approached by the pilot boat. The transit into Lisbon is stunning. Running directly at land, the ship turned to starboard and headed for the famous bridge of Lisbon. A slow transit takes the ship by the lighthouse to starboard, then the beautiful Monument of Discoveries to port, then under the magnificent bridge and directly across the bridge over the Tejo river from the port is the famous Christ the King statue. Awesome!

We tied up at about 11:00 a.m. and were ashore by 11:30. The ship was not scheduled to depart until 11 p.m., so we had plenty of time to spend ashore. The walk to the port entrance was short and the same 6 people as in Valencia once again headed of to explore. Alain and Nicole were to depart in this port and head back to France for a grandchilds First Communion on the weekend ahead. We would miss their company. Pierre the senior never did leave the ship.

Once out of the port and across a small bridge we could not make up our mind which way to head. Peer and I thought to the left. Karen and Patty thought straight ahead. So once again we split up the same as in Valencia. 15 minutes later, Peer, Chantal and I thought we had chosen wrong. We decided to hail a cab. But, not in Lisbon. Apparently you have to call and hire one. So we kept walking. Soon we came to an area almost directly under the bridge we had passed under on the ship. Peer, having been in Lisbon before, thought it looked familiar and said, "Yes, yes, this is the place". Sure enough, just to our left near the river we saw the backside of what appeared to be a restaurant. Indeed it was. In fact, it was the first in a row of 6 or more riverside restaurants. We decided to eat at the first one we had seen, a place called "The Irish Pub". We sat down and enjoyed a cold beer while perusing the menu. The waitress, a cute Polish lass with stunning blue eyes, took our order. Chantal and Peer enjoyed a steak and I enjoyed a Portuguese hamburger (minus the bun). We shared a bottle of Mateus and I believe Peer and Chantal may have had a dessert. I know the meals were not expensive, but as I went to pay for the lunch, Peer said, " John, because we are in Europe, your lunch is on us". I could not refuse this gesture, and hoped to be able to repay them when we arrive in New York. After lunch we asked the waitress if she would call us a cab. She did and gave us the contract number for when the cab arrived (good thing as another tourist tried to grab the cab from us but we gave the cabby the right number). We asked the cabbie to take us to "El Englis Court", which is something akin to an upscale super Wal-Mart. This cabbie, also named Louis as the cabbie in Valencia, spoke no English, but was fluent in French (how lucky can we get). Once again, we decided to hire him. We were to be dropped off at "El Englis Court", given 45 minutes to shop, then we would get a 3 hour tour of Lisbon. The price was once again 20 Euro per person (we also tipped him 5 Euro each).

Louis dropped us off at the "Court" and Chantal accompanied me to look for some gifts for my wife. I sort of needed a woman's opinion. I settled on a couple pair of Majorcan pearls, some table linen and linen rings. The store itself was quite interesting. As I mentioned it was an upscale version of our Super Wal-Mart, but instead of being a horizontal building (one floor), it was vertical with, I believe, 7 floors. The basement was devoted to groceries, etc. Unlike Wal-Mart, there was a liquor section where I picked up a nice moderately priced bottle of Port for after dinner in the dining room. After our shopping trip, we found Peer and Louis waiting at the cab and our 3 hour sojourn of Lisbon commenced. He drove us all over Lisbon and we stopped at a small square and had coffee and did some souvenir shopping. Past impressive churches and cathedrals, stopping at a couple of Plaza's for photo ops. Unfortunately, I forgot my small journal and tried to commit the names of these places to memory. I failed miserably. Another unfortunate thing was that I forgot to recharge the battery on my digital camera and it ran out of juice as we were docking. As the battery was still charging, I left the camera on ship. Chantal and Peer later burned me a disk of their photo's from that day. I wish I had been better prepared for Lisbon as it is a lovely city and has so many beautiful sights.

At the end of the tour, we stopped at a seaside bar and the three of us invited the driver to join us for a beer. He had a short one, while the 3 of us enjoyed on tall, cold beer. As the afternoon was proving to be quite warm, it was a refreshing stop. Louis took us back to the port and with some convincing at the port authority was able to drive us right to the ship. Nice touch.

We could have stayed ashore until 10 p.m., but we had done a lot of walking and were a bit tired. We got back to the ship in time to clean up and head for dinner. After dinner Peer quickly hurried to the passenger lounge to watch the finals of the European Soccer. A match between and English team and Barcelona. He is quite a "football" fan.

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