Mike and Renée cruise
on HAL Rotterdam
Netherlands to Spain
September 2012

Renée had wanted to see Portugal for a long time, so we booked a wonderful itinerary on HAL Rotterdam which included Lisbon, Porto and Portomaio in Portugal. Alas, when you travel, stuff happens! After embarkation we were informed that there was a pilot's strike at all ports in Portugal. First our stop in Lisbon was cancelled, and then all the Portuguese ports were replaced with Spanish ports. So it seems that our Portuguese dream cruise will have to be some other time.

We are Mike and Renée from Central California. We were traveling with a loose group of friends consisting of Pam from Florida, our cousin Connie from Northern California, and Renée's brother Scott and his wife Dolores from Southern California. It was a fun group and sometimes we did things together and other times all went off on our own in different directions.

This page covers the outbound leg, from Rotterdam to Barcelona by way of Gibraltar, Cartagena, and Palma de Mallorca as well as Barcelona itself.

Page 2 is the return leg from Barcelona to Rotterdam, including Alicante, Almeria and Cadiz in Spain and Cherbourg, France.

Page 3 covers arrival at Rotterdam and post cruise in Amsterdam.

A week before sailing, we were offered the chance to upgrade from an outside to a balcony for $199. We accepted and to our delight we were assigned cabins 6225 and 6227, the stern facing balconies. This gave us an extra large balcony and a marvelous view of where we had been! Scott and Dolores also had a stern balcony on the other side.

DAYS 1-2-3

With the cancellation of Lisbon as a port call, the itinerary opened with three full days at sea. This was a wonderful opportunity to explore the ship and enjoy the facilities. The ship is full of wonderful artwork of many different kinds. These replicas of the terra cotta warriors were impressive.

The dining room and the Lido buffet were wonderful. We also enjoyed occasional meals at the poolside grill. There were over 900 Dutch passengers on board who hoped we were sailing into sunny weather. Every night we played Pub Trivia. On the nights we won we were able to enjoy free drinks!
The second night was formal night, an occasion when we really enjoy dressing up.

We were traveling with a loosely connected group. Here we are, left to right, Scott and Dolores, Renée, Pam, Mike (yours truly) and Connie. We got along well and had a great time together!

A tradition on Holland America is the Indonesian tea. Our favorite waiter was Gan, who always took good care of us.
As we turned East, we were able to see the beautiful sunsets from our rear facing balcony. Early in the cruise a crescent moon hung near the setting sun each night.

DAY 4

So after three sea days, we reached our first port stop in Gibraltar. From the sea, the Rock rising up as we have seen it in so many pictures is impressive.

We anchored in the great natural harbor just under the shoulder of the rock. I was somewhat surprised to find that close up it can be seen to be covered with vegetation. We had nice weather to enjoy watching the Rock from the balcony.
Of course, we had to go to the Top of the Rock. We just took the ship's 2 hour tour, a very satisfactory way to do it. We saw the view, the cave, the 100 ton gun, and of course, the APES!

Yea, I hear the jokes. The one on the LEFT is ME!

The apes of Gibraltar are, in fact, macaque monkeys, found across the Strait in Africa but nowhere else in Europe. Legend says that Britain will hold the Rock as long as the apes are there. Winston Churchill, no fool, heard that the ape population was falling so he imported 24 new apes from Africa. Those have expanded into over 200 on the Rock today, so British rule seems secure.
As we sailed out through the Strait of Gibraltar, Connie was sitting on the balcony and was delighted by this pod of dolphins following the ship, jumping and frolicing.

DAY 5

The next day we were in Cartagena Spain, on our newly altered itinerary. A short walk down the pier led us to the spot where our guide was waiting. This is a beautiful port and one filled with history.

Our guide from Cartagena Spain Tours was Juan and our driver Jose. They gave us a wonderful tour of this ancient city, built by the Carthaginians to defend against the Romans during the Punic Wars around 216 BCE. The entire city had been surrounded by two 10 meter high walls, separated by a 1 meter defensive space. The wall has been recently excavated and portions of it can be seen in a very nice museum whose walls are built to the dimensions of the originals. We also visited the Roman theater.
Then Juan took us to a typical tapas bar in the old city center. Here we had beer or wine, and an assortment of little snacks, including shrimp and octopus, as well as tuna and tomatoes in olive oil. He helped us with our selections and saw to it that our glasses were kept filled up.

DAY 6

The next day found us in Palma De Mallorca. What a surprise! Since this was added to the itinerary to replace the missed Portuguese ports, we had no chance to research it, no chance to find out what to do, and no chance to book a tour ahead. We walked off the ship and La Bella Senorita greeted us.

The ship's last minute offerings did not interest us, so we did something we almost never do which is just walk off the ship and negotiate with a cab driver.

Guillermo was his name, and his English was limited to a very few words. However with my few words of Spanish and his book of pictures we managed to communicate and have an interesting tour at a reasonable price.

First stop on the tour was the old city center. At the city hall we saw these giant puppets. Men can actually go inside and pick them up and they are paraded through the streets at festival time.

The chief claim to fame of Mallorca, hosever, is the wonderful imitation pearls that are made in factories here. Of course Guillermo had his favorite shop to take us to. It was a very high quality store with a great selection of merchandise. As my Dear Wife Renée is quite an expert on pearls from our experience in the jewellery business, she knew exactly what she wanted in terms of size, color and quality and was delighted to get one strand of rose pearls and one strand of black pearl plus a pearl drop at very attractive prices.
Next Guillermo drove us up the tree lined valleys into the nearby hills to the village of Torellemas. Here little houses share the hillsides with terraced olive groves and almond orchards. Some of the groves are hundreds of years old, as evidenced by the twisted ancient olive trees in them.
In this port, Connie took the ship's tour to the Dragon Caves. This amazing place encloses a large underground lake and she reported that there was a concert by a group of strings on the lake which was wonderful. Photos were not allowed but here is one from the guidebook. Like most ship's tours, this one was very good.

Between the shopping and the scenery, Palma de Mallorca turned out to be a nice, if unexpected, port of call.

DAY 7

Our next stop was Barcelona. The ship had changed the date of this stop three times. As we disembarked we saw the provisioning trucks lined up, so apparently that was the reason that after much to do we finally wound up in Barcelona at the scheduled date. We had a tour booked with Tours By Locals, and after it was cancelled and reinstated we were lucky to get our original guide, Laurie. Throughout the confusiion caused by the ship canceling and rearranging ports, Tours By Locals worked with us in every way and was very helpful.

He is a wonderful, low key, flexible guy and we worked out a plan that took us to all the places we wanted to see and allowed for the mobility limitations of some of us.

The first stop was at the Cathedral of Barcelona, a high flying Spanish Renaissance structure. The square in front of it was bustling with noise as preperations for a fiesta were underway, but inside was still and impressive.

One of the side altars of the cathedral is dedicated to St. Mark. In all his gilded glory, surrounded by precious vessels, he is accompanied by his distinctive icon the lion, where here seems to have a distinctly oriental look for some reason.
Then Pam and I sat in a nice outdoor cafe and enjoyed cafe au lait while watching the activity in the plaza. Laurie took Renée and Connie on a walking tour of the Gothic quarter, with narrow streets, old buildings, and colorful inhabitants.
In the Gothic quarter they met Miguel Ale, a highly talented guitarist and singer, who delighted them with his serenade.
Outside the cathedral we were lucky to be in the plaza just as two of the giant puppets turned into it. Connie and Renée went running toward them to get pictures. Soon the men inside set them down in front of the cathedral for the fiesta.
Renée always enjoys visiting local marketplaces. The market in Barcelona was incredibly crowded with shoppers but the ladies managed to find olive oil and other good things to buy.
Architecture is a passion in Barcelona. There are many great buildings, of many periods and styles. The latest super star architect is Gaudi Everything new in Barcelona seems to be marked by his influence. Even the street tiles bear his flowing images.
The Gaudi masterpiece, of course, is the Sagrada Familia church. His images abound,and the more one looks at it the more classical images one finds interpreted in the inimitable Gaudi style.
Its towers soar high into the sky. It is unfinished, and has perhaps 20 more years of construction ahead. Nevertheless it is one of the biggest tourist attractions of the city.

Laurie is also an outstanding photographer. He took this wonderful photo which captures the soaring towers of Sagrada Familia.

Next Laurie led us to one of the premier tapas bars in the city, Tapa Tapa. His knowledge of Barcelona at all levels was impressive and we had a truly wonderful tour under his guidance.
We enjoyed a wide selection of tapas, from cheeses to long skinny needlefish cooked whole and crispy which made a single bite. Potatoes Braves in a spicy sauce,salmon, tomatoes in olive oil and many other little snacks were delightful.

A nice pitcher of sangria accompanied it, and at the end we could retrieve the slices of wine soaked fruit and enjoy them.

This was our turnaround point. Now the ship began the return voyage to Rotterdam.

Page 2 covers that part of the trip.

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Since October 2012.


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