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A look inside Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 7)

I had the opportunity to travel in a group that included an avid cruise ship historian and author of Maritime Matters, Peter Knego. Peter’s passion for cruise ships goes far beyond an interest in the design, mechanics, and logistics of a boat. Indeed, his interests have opened up an entire career for him.

Peter spends time each year trekking to the far reaches of India to what would most easily be described as a cruise ship graveyard. Once ships have officially gone into retirement, they are docked along the beaches of India, where workers strip each ship down to the bone. Everything from tables and chairs to doorknobs and faucets are ripped out and sold as scrap.

Peter takes this opportunity to “rescue,” as he calls it, what he deems to be some of the most fascinating and culturally valuable aspects of these ships, many of which he has sailed on numerous times. As such, this can be heartbreaking work for him.

Peter returns to his home in southern California with treasure loads of furniture, paintings, tile, and more, which he sells to interior designers and furniture enthusiasts. As you might imagine, Peter’s own home has become a near replica of the fine interiors of a ship itself, overflowing with some of the pieces Peter deemed simply too beautiful or sentimental to part with.

This is my interview with Peter, whose admiration for the beauty of these majestic ships comes shining through in almost everything he says and does.



A look inside Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 6)

After our rocky start to the day, by late morning we had finally made it to Tangier, Morocco. It’s hard to describe Tangier without using words that make every writer cringe, such as incredible, breathtaking, and at times mind-blowing. But … well … it was.

BEST PART: Careening through the kasbah

Tangier was an assault to the senses. And I do mean assault in every sense of the word. As we wound our way through the dizzying streets of the city’s kasbah, men and young boys would pop out from dark doorways and around corners, pressing leather belts, tin trinkets, and Chiclets in front of your face. Five euro, one euro, for you good price, ten euro.

It seemed that my blond hair and our white skin was a magnet for hawkers of every sort of ware, who don’t take no for an answer, hoping their insistence would finally put a few euros in their pocket. It was exciting and eye-opening and, at times, exhausting.

But I can still say without hesitancy that our time in the kasbah was one of my favorite parts of the entire Iberian Coasts Cruise.

The sites, sounds, and smells of the outdoor markets, the streets so narrow it would have been a squeeze for three people to walk down side by side, the colorful doors leading into unimaginable homes, the communal water spigots for washing dishes and clothes, the poverty, the color, the desperation, the beauty, the sweat.

We spent most of the day with our group who had hired a local guide for the day, which turned out to be an invaluable history lesson.

TANGIER MARKET: Teeming with food

With our guide, we were given the best of the streets and a sense of relative security, despite essentially walking around with a flashing neon TOURIST sign around our necks. And without him, it’s unlikely we would have even been able to find our way out of the maze of the kasbah.

In the markets, rows of stalls seemed to go on forever. Some were teeming with olives of every shape and color. Others were selling skinned chickens hanging from gruesome hooks. Still more presented barrels of oranges the size of a child’s head and so juicy that I can still taste them today.

Our guide led us to a store packed with jewelry, knives, tin boxes, and just about every imaginable Moroccan souvenir. My husband and I politely browsed through the aisles when a young man tapped me on the shoulder. “Let me show you,” he said as he led us up the stairs into a room overflowing with ceramic plates, bowls, and vases. I assumed he was showing us more of the store’s merchandise. But he walked right past them all.

“Come please,” he said as he opened a door to the store’s roof.

“My city,” he said with a sense of pride as we stepped onto the roof and the incredible old city spread before us.

Never before had I seen such poverty crammed together in such close proximity. Houses in shades of white, red, and gray, dotted with antennas and satellites literally as far as the eye could see. It was breathtaking.

FROM THE ROOF: An incredible overview of the city

With a little free time to walk around the old city ourselves, my husband and I decided to test our haggling skills and bring something home uniquely Moroccan. Should we get a vase? Maybe a handmade ceramic bowl? A candle holder? With so many beautiful, handmade wares before us, we had a hard time choosing where to even begin.

As we browsed one shop’s selections, we were once again ushered up another store’s back stairs. The shop owner wanted to show us how he made their beautiful handmade rugs. Upstairs was a giant wooden loom with a half-finished rug. Piles of rugs were stacked throughout the floor in every room. The rugs’ intricacy, color, and craftsmanship was a juxtaposition to the crude wooden room.

And that’s when we decided that we wanted to bring home a genuine Moroccan rug. Back home, we were in the process of purchasing our first home, and frankly, we couldn’t think of a more perfect housewarming gift to ourselves than a gorgeous rug from one of the most arresting countries either of us had ever visited.

And this is where the fun of shopping in Morocco began. We haggled and haggled and refused his prices, and even went so far as to walk down the steps and out of the shop when the shopkeeper chased us down and finally offered the rug for 300 euros, less than what he said he refused to go below.

So my husband and I walked back to the bus with a giant carpet under his arm and a sense of triumph clouding our heads. It was exhilarating. And we had a beautiful rug to show for it. When we finally made it back to the bus, we dropped into our seats, put our bags down, and let out a long contented sigh. Our excitement of exploring the kasbah had overshadowed the exhausting that had been building throughout the day. Now that we were on our way back to the Louis Majesty, we felt it consume us.

Our time in Tangier was absolutely incredible, and as our bus pulled away from the city walls I already couldn’t wait to experience more of Morocco the next day in Casablanca.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 5)

Our fifth day aboard the Louis Majesty got off to a little bit of a rocky start. Literally. The waves were churning rougher than anyone had expected, and the crew decided that it wouldn’t be possible to make our scheduled stop in Gibraltar.

With massive winter waves hitting the boat at high speeds, it would have been unlikely the ship could have been maneuvered into the narrow port. So while we sailed on to our afternoon in Tangier, Morocco, I decided to take advantage of my time on ship to get to know the Louis Majesty a bit more intimately.

The Majesty can hold up to 1,790 passengers in its 731 staterooms and suites. All rooms are appointed with an array of modern comforts, including climate control, telephone, TV, and private bathroom. Most of the 481 outside cabins offer large picture windows with views of the Mediterranean.

The Majesty isn’t enormous by cruise ship standards, but that doesn’t mean that there is ever a lack of something to do. In fact, there was so much to do on board, it was almost impossible to see it all.

There’s the formal dining room, six restaurants, nine bars and lounges, a disco, two swimming pools, two hot tubs, a sun deck, an Internet cafe, beauty salon, fitness center, spa, sauna, theater, casino, game room, children’s pool, kid’s corner, and the duty free shop. PHEW!

Thankfully, a copy of the “Louis News” was delivered to my cabin every evening, which kept me in the loop on everything happening on board the next day. Information such as daily activities, meeting points for shore excursions, show times, meal times, weather predictions, and sunrise and sunset times were all included.

You could also find the next day’s dress code. While it’s hard to find a cruise without a dress code, I found the Majesty’s to be generally casual. While passengers typically dressed for comfort during the day, the evenings brought out a bit more sophistication.

DRESS TO IMPRESS: Passengers brought out their finer outfits for places like the Seven Seas Restaurant

By late morning, we were out of the Strait of Gibraltar and on our way to Africa! And as land came into view, I had forgotten all about Gibraltar as my head filled with images of bustling marketplaces; towering mosques; and all the exotic sites, smells, and sounds of Morocco

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 4)

Lying on the eastern coast of Spain, Alicante is steeped in history, rich in culture, awash with every kind of shop, and bursting with European beach life. The city of 320,000 residents enjoys a privileged year-round climate with an average temperature of 66.2 degrees and 2,500 sunny hours each year. For a sun-dog like me, that’s all I needed to hear.

As the Louis Majesty pulled into port at Alicante, I was looking forward to some slightly warmer weather in the palm-lined coastal town. Unfortunately for us, in February “slightly warmer” meant rain. But that wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying our morning in port.

STEEPED IN HISTORY: Alicante, Spain

As we stepped off the shuttle that took us from port to the city’s bustling downtown, it wasn’t hard to imagine why Alicante has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain, even in a drizzle. The marina area is one of the most prosperous areas of the city, an open space facing the sea replete with bars, restaurants, and outdoor squares.

Our first glimpse of the city from the boat revealed an ancient castle towering above the city center, which, when we arrived in town, was our first destination.

ON THE MOUNT: Castle Santa Barbara

The Castle Santa Barbara sits 166 meters above sea level on Mount Benacantil. Positioned for its enormous strategic value, it’s possible to see the entire Bay of Alicante and surrounding stretch of land from the mountain’s summit.

On the hillside leading up to the castle, different archaeological remains have been found dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as from the Roman and Iberian civilizations. The origins of the actual fortress however, date from the late 9th Century, when the Moors ruled Spain.

My husband and I took an elevator to the top of the castle to spend some time exploring the grounds on our own. Tracing my fingers along the castle walls, it was incredible to imagine how astonishing the Castle Santa Barbara must have seemed as it emerged from the hilltop over 12 centuries ago.

A VIEW FROM THE TOP: Bay of Alicante

After spending a few hours walking through the castle’s three precincts, we spent the rest of the morning ambling through Alicante’s streets, popping in to quiet churches along the way.

The sea was a beautiful turquoise green, which seemed to bleed into the tropical feel of the city itself. The streets were busy for a Monday morning, but the people seemed to have a bit more of a somber feel to them than those in Barcelona.

This could have been due to the rain on a city that wasn’t quite used to breaking out umbrellas, or the fact that Sundays are simply happier days than Mondays, no matter which country you live in. Or perhaps, everyone was simply biding their time until summer weather, when the true splendor of the city would truly emerge.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 3)

A light snow fell upon the city in the early morning light as the Louis Majesty pulled into port at Barcelona on Feb. 14. Watching the snow fall as I sipped my tea in the Royal Observatory, I regretted my decision to leave my warm winter boots at home. But by the time my day’s tour stepped off of our bus later that morning into Barcelona’s Park Guell, I’d forgotten all about the chill in the air (well, almost).

MASTERPIECE: Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia

Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Works of Antoni Gaudi,” the park is an incredible peek at the world of Catalan architect Gaudi. Here, his imaginative sculptures and visions for a divine community come to life.

Originally designed to be a housing development and worked on from 1900-1914, Gaudi proved to be too far ahead of his time (and somewhat mad) for current Barcelona standards, and the community failed. But today, the park is a step back in time and into the mind of an incredible artist and visionary architect. Rife with mystic symbolism and incredible mosaics, Park Guell is not only an awe-inspiring display of architecture, but it is a sanctuary from a busy city.

On a sunny day, it would be easy to lose yourself for hours among the tilting pillars and swirling mosaic sculptures. A sucker for color and avant-garde uses of outdoor spaces, I was absolutely mesmerized.

From Park Guell, our tour bus took us to Gaudi’s masterpiece, la Sagrada Familia. It’s not often in my life that I have been overwhelmed by the works of man, but this church took my breath away.

Besides the sheer enormity, the intricacy of the stonework was absolutely incredible. As we circled the outside of the church, our guide flexed his Gaudi knowledge as he pointed out detail after detail and entire Biblical stories unfolded before our eyes. I felt like I could have stared at a single turret all afternoon, and new elements would still slowly reveal themselves.

As the day wore on, we visited Barcelona’s historical district, which was actually my favorite part of the day. There is little else I enjoyed more while in Europe than winding my way down narrow city streets and taking in all the unique sites, sounds, and smells.

NOTHING BETTER: In Barcelona together

When we parted ways with our guide — whose passion for Barcelona shone through his incredible tour — my husband and I stopped for some tapas y cervezas in a sunny piazza with some fellow travelers.

There is perhaps no better way to understand a city than to enjoy a little food and drink in a crowded spot. The food was warm and delicious and the beers were crisp and refreshing. Is there anything better than that?

I did a little shopping on La Rambla on our way back to the boat, where, as one of our travel companions warned us, “they’ll steal your underwear without ever touching your pants,” so don’t be afraid to haggle! A beautiful urban space in a bustling city, it was easy to imagine the splendor of La Rambla in the spring and summer when the trees are in bloom.

When my husband and I finally arrived back on ship, the Louis Majesty housekeeping crew (constantly sticklers for detail) had decorated our cabin for our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple. And after a day like that, I don’t know how we’ll ever beat it.

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise (part 2)

I’m sure by now most travelers interested in cruising have seen ads for American cruises such as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Of The Seas. Have you ever noticed that not one of these ads tells consumers where exactly the boat takes cruisers? Rather, the entire appeal of the cruise is the cruise itself. The destination is the boat.

While this is wonderful for those who want to plan a vacation floating around the middle of the ocean on a boat that more closely resembles a thriving metropolis, that’s not what Friendly Planet Travel had in mind when they began planning the Iberian Coasts Cruise (or any of its cruises, for that matter). Why would they, when there’s Italy, France, Spain, and Morocco to see?

WELCOME: Louis Majesty reception area

During my time aboard the M/V Louis Majesty, I learned that they do it a little bit differently in Europe. When I first stepped foot on the Louis Majesty, I was struck by the vessel’s understated elegance. Less of a traveling circus, and more of a traveling hotel, with all the luxuries you’ve come to expect from Friendly Planet Travel.

The style on board is redolent of the art deco made so popular in the 1920s, which helps you feel that when you step on board, you’re about to embark on an adventure that transcends both time and place.

Many of the sights, sounds, and smells of Europe and Northern Africa are much the same today as they were hundreds of years ago. And life on the ship, with elegant common areas and impeccable service from a staff who truly appear to love their jobs — from the officers to the wait staff — is a small step back in time.

The outside cabin, while not overly large, offers all the comforts of home, including — and as a relatively seasoned world traveler, this was quite a pleasant surprise — power outlets for both European- and American-style plugs.

Imagine tucking into bed after a night at sea, including decadent dinner at the Four Seasons Dining Room, a stroll around the ship’s upper decks, and a quick dance at the Louis Majesty disco.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Louis Majesty outside junior suite

Now imagine waking, the room still dark with a hint of sunshine leaking in from the curtains behind your bed. You pull back the curtains to let the sun pour in and before you lies Marseille, France. The homes, stores, and restaurants all different shades of muted pastel. In the distance, you can see the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking the city, with the island of Chateau D’If not far off the coast.

This isn’t hard to imagine on the Iberian Coasts Cruise, because this is your view on your first morning aboard the Louis Majesty. With an entire day at port before me, I didn’t waste any time to get into town.

BEST VIEW: Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde

While Friendly Planet Travel offers a number of optional shore excursions at each port, I set out this morning alone with my husband, who was able to accompany me on this incredible journey. We spent hours walking up and down the cobblestone streets with a map in our hands. The February weather was chilly, but nothing to keep you from spending an entire day taking advantage of all there is to see in Marseille.

We walked up to the Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde, which offers a breathtaking view of the entire city and port.

From there, we walked on, snapping pictures and ducking into cathedrals. Marseille is a fascinating combination of ancient buildings and traditional French architecture mixed with a subtle new world cosmopolitan flare.

Of course, we had to stop for a fresh baguette and some cappuccino too. Then on we walked. And when we felt like we had taken enough pictures and walked down enough narrow, winding streets, we popped into a small bar overlooking the harbor and enjoyed a cold beer and some olives while we watched the busy city.

EXPLORING ON SHORE: Strolling the streets of Marseille, France

When the day had finally come to a close, our cabin was a welcoming sight after an entire day spent exploring on shore. Marseille was truly an unforgettable city, and tomorrow … Barcelona!

A look inside Friendly Planet Travel’s Iberian Coasts Cruise

I’m sure it won’t surprise you to learn that here at Friendly Planet Travel, we can’t ever over-emphasize the importance of world travel and cultural discovery. That’s why Peggy makes a point of encouraging everyone in the office to get out and explore Earth’s riches whenever possible.

ALL ABOARD: The M/V Louis Majesty

The benefit, besides being surrounded by travel enthusiasts, is that every Friendly Planet Travel employee can talk your ear off about how a trek to Machu Picchu or a cruise down the Yangtze River or a meal of tapas y cervezas in a Spanish piazza changed their life. That’s one of the reasons Peggy sent me off on Friendly Planet’s Iberian Coasts Cruise the other week. And over the next few weeks, I’m going to tell you ALL about it.

The nine-day cruise aboard the M/V Louis Majesty embarks from Genoa, Italy and spends time at fascinating ports of call in Marseille, France; Barcelona, Spain; Alicante, Spain; Gibraltar, B.C.C.; Tangier, Morocco; Casablanca, Morocco; and Malaga, Spain. As you can imagine, it’s a dizzying adventure to some of the most culturally significant and extraordinarily beautiful sights of Europe and Northern Africa.

Here on the blog, I’m going to tell you about my own experience on the Iberian Coasts Cruise, and give you an in-depth look at life on and off the Louis Majesty. So stay tuned, because I’ve got a head teeming with stories, a camera brimming with photos, and fingers that are itching to unload them all here!

About Peggy

Peggy Goldman is a specialty tour operator and travel expert, who owns and operates Friendly Planet Travel, a full-service company that specializes in tour packages to exotic worldwide destinations at affordable prices.   More about Peggy

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