Cruising the Canary Islands

A cruise at last! After missing out on our Canada and New England cruise last September due to Patrick being admitted into hospital for a month, we were ready for this one. We almost didn’t make it to the ship though! Buying sunglasses in the airport, thinking we had 45 minutes to get to the boarding gate, we heard an announcement for the ‘last call for flight xxxx at gate 2. Panic stricken we began to run, gate 2 was just around the corner right? Nope, gate 17 was just around the corner, gate 2 was at the other end of the world seemingly. I honestly thought I was going to die of heart attack by the time we got there, only to have the take off delayed by 45 minutes anyway.

On arrival at the ship, it wasn’t too long a check in considering the number of people to be processed but we were all very tired, it had been a long day since 5am. The instruction on the check in sheet said that the cabin key would be hanging outside the door but that we had to go to our muster station to get it activated. Having got up to deck 8, walked down the corridor from the front of the ship all the way to the back, the key wasn’t there. A staff member let us into the cabin but said we needed to go to reception for our key. Reception told us we needed to go to our muster station to collect our key. We were very tired and irritable by now so not very happy with this shenanigans. We collected the key and made our way to the buffet for some food, which was well past it’s best by 3pm. We had a much needed drink in the bar and a sit outside on deck before heading back to the cabin to unpack, only to find that our jar of coffee had exploded all over our suitcase, covering our clothes with instant coffee. Fortunately, we were in a balcony cabin so had access to outside but shaking the coffee off our clothes outside resulted in bits of coffee sticking to the floor of the balcony, so we then had to fill the bin with water several times to swill it clean! The holiday had not started very well. However, after a rest a visit to the pub and then a very nice evening meal in the main restaurant, washed down with the all inclusive wine, we felt much better and slept very well.

Clouds from the plane
Balcony cabin!

Wednesday – Arrecife, Lanzarote

We had booked a tour for today and I’m pleased we had because the port of Accerife didn’t seem to have much going for it for holidaymakers. So off we set on a coach to Timanfaya National Park to see the volcanic landscape. We were treated to demonstrations of the power still there, brewing under the surface. Firstly the guide got a shovelful of little rocks and dropped a few into each of our hands, they were too hot to hold even though they were from only just under the surface, next we were shown a pit which had been dug, the temperature down there was 220°C and we were amazed that there was no barrier in place, just a ring of small stones. The guide dropped handfuls of dried grass into it which immediately burst into flames so I’m just pleased that no one tripped up and fell into it whilst we were there! The final demonstration was the most impressive, a pipe of about 6 inch diameter had been dug into the ground, the guide poured in a bucket of water which burst out like a geyser, at great speed and noise a second or so later. It certainly made us all jump.

View from the top, Timanfaya park
Volcanic pit!

Next up was a drive through a recently created trail through the volcanic landscape. This is purely for tourist coaches and cars are not allowed. There was a soundtrack playing with a bit of commentary on the history and atmospheric music in between. I really enjoyed it, it’s not called the lunar landscape for nothing, it was almost other-worldly.

After Timanfaya, we were heading for ‘El Golfo’ the tiny village with the green lake in a volcanic crater. The colour is caused by the algae in the water. During the drive there, the tourist guide was telling us what a great place it was to stop for lunch as the restaurants there were very good and had beautiful views. She went on the describe various Canarian dishes and as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, we were getting quite hungry. I honestly thought that she meant we would have time to stop for lunch so was dismayed when the coach parked up and she said we had 20 minutes to go see the lake. It was beautiful and worth visiting but I would have liked more time there.

El Golfo’s green lake
Beautiful coast off El Golfo

So, back on the coach driving through vineyards to visit a winery and gift shop. We had noticed the landscape peppered with these odd, semi circular low brick walls and the guide explained that they are built that way to protect the vines when they are young, to give them chance to grow and establish so they can stand up to the winds that blow on the island. Some of the vineyards are enormous and you can see them stretching into the distance. At the winery, we queued for the ‘wine tasting’ which was actually a tiny shot glass of one type of wine. We had to choose between sweet and dry, we had one of each between us and neither of them tempted us to buy a bottle.

Vineyard in Lanzarote
Vineyard, stretching into the distance

Thursday – Funchal, Madeira

I could tell just from the sail-in that I was going to love it here. Such a beautiful, green island and a massive contrast from the barren looking Lanzarote. I didn’t know previously but a huge poster on the dockside advertising a museum informed us that this was the birthplace of Christiano Ronaldo.

We hadn’t booked an excursion, instead opting to explore by ourselves and we really enjoyed our day. There were still a lot of Christmas lights and decorations around which hadn’t yet been taken down and I imagine it was a magical place to spend Christmas. We found a little municipal garden area with what looked to be a Christmas trail. The garden itself was planted with exotic trees and shrubs, all labelled with their names and places of origin. we wandered around for a while before heading further into the town. We first stopped at the beautiful indoor market, the food stalls were beautiful and there were other stalls with leather and cork goods. I was admiring some lovely cork handbags but the old woman on the stall just wouldn’t leave me alone pushing the bags at me, unpacking them and opening them up. I actually think I would have bought one if left to look and choose but in the end I just walked away.

Further along we came to an area of lots of narrow streets and hidden squares, wall to wall cafes, restaurants and bars nowadays, all vying for our custom but I could almost imagine when people lived there. A lovely thing I noticed was that lots of the doorways and walls were painted with quirky images. We stopped for a beer and asking for a local dark beer we were served a bottled stout called Coral. I think my late sister-in-law would have loved to see us drinking a beer in her name for our first port ‘beer o’clock’.

Beer O’clock in Funchal

Passing through one square, we found ourselves at the Saint James Fortress, built in the 17th century to defend the island it was having some repairs and covered in scaffolding but the outside areas were still accessible. We wandered around the distinctive, yellow building and enjoyed the views from the walls before headed back into town for some lunch. As usual, we were struggling to make a decision so we just stopped at the next place we came to, a tiny little restaurant down a side street. We both wanted to try some dish that would be local to the island and scabbard fish seemed to dominate the menus of most of the places we had looked at. A quick internet search told me it was a white fish with a similar texture to haddock, so that was me sorted, fried scabbard fish it was. Patrick opted for espatada, which was big chunks of beef on a skewer. All served with a shared portion of rice, some sort of sauce and salad. It was all delicious and very reasonably priced compared to the restaurants on the main road.

You can’t visit Madeira without buying a bottle of the wine to bring home, so we went into a shop where we spotted some miniatures. We were going to just get a selection but the assistant offered us a tasting so we could make up our minds. We tried about 5 not insignificant samples and opted for the 10 year old, which of course being the most expensive is the aim of the tasting experience! Ply you with the cheaper versions, get you slightly pissed, then bring out the big gun, knowing that you will immediately be able to taste the difference in flavour. So having bought our Madeira wine, we had a leisurely wander back to the ship where Patrick discovered that he had been quite badly bitten by mosquitos on his legs which were already swelling up.

Slideshow below of a selection of images, of course there is the usual collection of windows and doors from me.

Friday – At Sea

Today was Friday 13th. Now I’m not a superstitious person and have never believed in the unlucky 13 guff but I have to say, this wasn’t the best day I’ve ever had. The night had been quite rough and I hadn’t slept well. Patrick had had a bad night due to the bites on his legs, which had now swollen up quite badly. So I didn’t feel my best to start with but the ship was a tad wibbly wobbly all day so I felt quite queasy and spent a lot of the day snoozing or sitting on the balcony. It was the Dress to Impress night, which on other cruise lines would be the formal night. I think Marella have probably chosen to rename it due to the fact that most of most of us don’t move in the social circles that involve black-tie events and so don’t possess the attire for them. That’s absolutely fine by me. The restaurant is at the back of the ship, with a huge window looking out and we were seated right in front of this window, which I’m sure is a wonderful view with a nice calm sea. However as it was a bit rock and roly, I deliberately sat with my back to the view but the movement of the ship was still quite noticeable here and I unfortunately only made it through my starter. I couldn’t manage to eat my main course and had to go for a lie down in the cabin as I felt sick. After about 30 minutes, I did manage to pull myself together and went to meet Patrick in the bar where I’d left him. I then enjoyed a couple of hours listening to the singer and seeing what outfits my fellow passengers were wearing.

All dressed up for a selfie

Back in the cabin and Patrick was clearly suffering and the bites were looking infected. He had been to the medical facility to ask for some anti-histamine cream but was they didn’t sell or dispense medicines, even over the counter remedies. Not sure what the point of the place is then to be honest! I was worried because something like this could cause a recurrence of the endocarditis which had hospitalised him last year. So, being the worry-monster that I am, I spent most of the night wide awake and imagining various scenarios involving Patrick being sent to hospital and me having to pack everything and go ashore, find a hotel etc. etc. You get the picture I’m sure. I wish I didn’t do this to myself but I can’t stop it and so I had another horrible night.

Saturday – Agadir, Morocco

Having always wanted to visit Morocco, I was quite excited for today. We had booked a tour because we weren’t comfortable wandering around a country so different in culture by ourselves and also, thinking that we would see and learn a bit more being on a guided tour.

First up was a trip up the mountain to the Kasbah, which was the original town of Agadir before being almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. The only thing left standing was sections of the original wall of the town. These are still being rebuilt in a traditional way now. The town was rebuilt during the 1960s further down the mountain to the port area that it is now. There wasn’t really much to see up there, you can’t go into the Kasbah, just walk around the outside and enjoy the views. As soon as we got off the coach though, we were being approached by locals selling silver jewellery or offering camel rides and photos, even a man with a goat kid trying to get people to hold the kid for a photo. It does spoil the visit because you are constantly trying to avoid contact with them.

Agadir Kasbah
View from the Kasbah

Back on the coach to travel to a small local show called Fantasia. The original people of Morocco were the Berbers and this show was a celebration of various Berber regions. We were first given a small cup of traditional Berber tea which according to recipes I’ve since found, is a mixture of green tea, mint and sugar (or stevia leaves), which I found to be delicious. The show itself was a mixed bag. The Berber horsemen riding towards us and firing their rifles was an impressive sight and the snake charmer was fascinating in a way, although I don’t really enjoy seeing snakes being shoved into bags and boxes and dragged out for entertainment. The music and dancing though was a bit tedious. One act, some men doing some quite acrobatic dancing accompanied by percussion was good but the other two were just random, vaguely musical noise accompanying some rather plump, middle aged ladies who just wiggled a bit and shrugged their shoulders a lot. It must have been a grand old life in those Berber villages in times gone by!

Next stop was the souk, which is the market in Agadir. I had spotted several pharmacies on our journey and luckily, one just across the road from the souk where we were able to buy some cream for Patrick’s legs. The souk is simply enormous, the largest in Morocco I believe, there are twelve gates and it covers 13 hectares with over 6000 stalls inside. Our guide had taken us to gate 9 and repeated several times that we would be picked up here in an hour’s time. We had a good wander around and the array of fresh food and dried herbs and spices as well as the ubiquitous mobile phone accessories and general tat was incredible. There were also stall holders making beautiful wooden furniture as well as other furniture and carpet sellers.

Herbs and spices at the Souk
Fruit and veg at the Souk

Walking past stalls of herbs and spices, I must had inadvertently made eye-contact because next we knew, we were having some kind of lump of menthol thing wafted under our noses by a young stall holder and told how good it was for breathing problems, then he started talking about the Berber tea and the herbs to make it. It was then I made my second mistake, I told him we had drunk some and enjoyed it! Before we quite knew what was happening, we were sitting on a little bench behind his stall, next to a box containing his pet tortoise, whilst he made us a pot of tea. Despite trying to escape by telling him that we needed to get back to our bus, he insisted we had some tea. In desperation I said I would buy some, at which he started to shove huge handfuls of leaves into a plastic bag which he then weighed and told me it cost 140 dirham, around £14. I laughed and told him that was far too much and that I only had euros and would give him 5, he looked offended, he’s obviously perfected the act, and we agreed on 7 euros. Still probably too expensive but we just needed to get away by this point. Of course, we were lost, inside the biggest souk in Morocco. We did find our way out in time for the coach obviously, otherwise we’d probably still be in there! I’m pleased to have seen it but I don’t think I would rush back to Morocco.

Kasbah from the ship. Arabic writing on the mountain side reads God, Country, King

Sunday – Fuerteventura

I was awake very early today so to avoid disturbing Patrick, I went and sat on the balcony with my book. The day was just dawning and the light as we sailed into Fuerteventura was beautiful. We should have been on a tour today, the Taste of Fuerteventura but someone (that’d be me!) misread the time on the ticket and we missed the bus. I was so disappointed because I had been looking forward to this one, a trip to a goat farm and then a winery with tapas and wine. Instead, we had to go off on our own to wander around Puerto Del Rosario and unfortunately, being a Sunday, nothing much was open. We had a little wander around and I snapped a nice mural of fishermen on the wall of a building. We went to visit the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary but I was surprised to see was locked up, so we couldn’t see inside. What kind of church is closed on a Sunday? We found a bar instead and sat outside to enjoy a beer. As usual we asked if they had any local beers, preferably dark and were served a red beer called Alhambra Reserva Roja, a really tasty, malty brew and at 7.4% abv, no wonder I felt a little light-headed after two bottles.

Monday – Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Our last port of call and we were again going off on our own. There was a hop-on hop-off bus but we decided against it. We did think that we could walk to the old town of Vegueta, it was about 4km but we thought there might be places to stop along the way. However, after wandering aimlessly down a huge, busy and noisy main road and me getting a little irritable, we decided to head over to the other side of the town where the beach area was located. The temperature was at 29°C and for us, that is El-scorchio, too hot to be walking far. We sat for a while outside a restaurant enjoying a beer and the warmth of the sun, people watching on the beach and on the promenade. Deciding we were hungry, we moved seats to avoid some smokers and ordered food. I had a prawn dish, sizzling with garlic and lemon but it didn’t come with any sides, I would have ordered bread if I’d realised and Patrick had some lightly fried hake fillet with local ‘wrinkled’ potatoes. The potatoes were one of the dishes the guide on Lanzarote was describing, (you know, the one who told us what a great place we weren’t going to be able to have lunch in!), they are just baby potatoes boiled in very salted water, she said you put the potatoes in the pan of water and pour in salt until the potatoes float, then cook them. They were delicious, as was the whole meal, quite pricey but when we popped inside the restaurant to use the loo, it was a very smart looking place.

You can’t be at a beach as lovely as Playa de Las Canteras without at least having a paddle, so here we are, having a paddle.

Back to the ship for our final night, a nice meal in the Italian restaurant followed by the show in the theatre. The first one we had managed to get to and it was excellent. The cast did a medley of songs, dancing and acrobatics and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish we could have got to some of the other shows but just didn’t manage to get there in time before it was full.

Marella Explorer

The Marella Explorer is a nice ship, the food in the main restaurants and the buffet was very good and the inclusive drinks sufficient for most tastes. The entertainment was of a good standard, our favourite being The Collective, a four piece band of drummer, guitar, bass and Connie, the singer with a great voice. The acoustic sets in the smaller bars very good too. The only criticism I would have was that there wasn’t enough variety, we saw the same 4 acts, singing the same songs all week. The main pub, the Squid and Anchor had quizzes, competitions, bands and DJ with a dance-floor and the smaller bars were quieter with usually just a singer. There was also a nightclub but we didn’t make it up there!

So homeward bound on Tuesday morning. We were in the first group to leave the ship at 10am. Our flight was just after 1pm but when we got to the airport, it had been delayed and we didn’t fly until about 2:30 ish. Arriving back in the freezing cold, by the time we had cleared security, picked up our luggage and got the shuttle bus back to the car park it was almost 8:30pm. The car windows were frozen so needed to be scraped and we really were not looking forward to the 3 to 4 hour drive home. Patrick was trying to find a hotel we could stay in but everywhere seemed to be booked so we had no choice but to set off and see how we went. I drove for about 2 hours before needing to stop for food and coffee. We managed to get a sandwich and a coffee at WH Smith, the only shop open in Woodhall Services at 11:30pm. Patrick drove the rest of the way and we arrived home at 1am and fell into bed.

We really enjoyed the cruise but as Patrick has said in his blog, it was a bit tiring and my seasickness is a concern for any future cruises. Having said that, we are hoping to book for the Canada and New England cruise that we missed out on last year for this coming September. I’ll just have to get some anti-seasickness pills!