On Look Up!

Do you know the place? I so-much what to visit the small town on the two, adjacent hilltops in the distance. Oh well … next time.

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If you don’t know, let’s move the camera to the left for some familiar places you may recognize.

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These panoramic views are from Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence, Italy. Everybody loves Florence! Then again, loving Florence is very easy to do because there is so much to enjoy. I’ve visited twice in the past three years, and I noticed something each time. Most people look left and right to make sure they catch the store fronts. Besides a lot of shopping, one doesn’t want to miss gelato!

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But for me, the window shoppers are missing some of the best things to see in Florence because their heads are swiveling on their spine to catch the shopping windows … therefore they are not looking up. So enjoy this view of Florence … the Look Up Tour!

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“Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice.” (Matteo Renzi, Italian politician)

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“In Florence, classical buildings sit against medieval buildings. It’s that contrast we like.” (Richard Rogers British architect)

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“Florence and art is something that is part of my life and is part of myself.” (Roberto Cavalli
Italian designer)

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Any favorites?

On the Proud One

Upon arriving it the main train station, one can easily notice why the city is nicknamed The Proud One. Do you know where we are? (This isn’t easy, but I’ve the feeling Aussie Debra knows … Pssst … Don’t tell, Debra.)

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Here’s another hint: This monument honors one of the cities most-favorite sons and his house.

Alright – one last hint: It’s actually Italy’s sixth largest city, a port city (I actually sailed in and out of this port in 1958 with my mother), and it has a noble history.

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Before going to Italy, my wife asked me where I wanted to visit … and I always listed the Old City section of Genova (Genoa). So one day, we boarded the train to fulfill one of my requests. For those who may want to visit this city by train, Genova has several train stations, so select Genova Principe.

Blogger Debra did this post about her trip to Genova, and her pictures captured my attention and remained stuck in my memory bank. The Old City is well-preserved and we loved it.

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We also took the hop-on, hop-off tour bus for a broader view of the city outside the old wall.

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Notice anything odd here?
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To top off this day, we even saw The King.
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On Knowledge and a Place

I’m guessing you don’t know this Tuscan town and it’s 13th Century church … but I know you know something important about it.
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Here’s a hint. Does this look familiar?

Vitruvian Man is a great hint.

Vitruvian Man is a great hint.

Leonardo di ser Piero (aka Leonardo da Vinci) was from Vinci, a small town located on top of a rolling hill surrounded by olive trees and grapevines not too far from Florence.

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Visiting Vinci wasn’t on our radar, but not only did my cousins suggest visiting (only about 40 minutes away) – so they took us on a Saturday. Interestingly (in August) my wife and I visited the da Vinci travelling exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. (Fabulous) … and now to get additional reinforcement of his brilliance in his hometown. (Something we never imagined.)

The museum ticket (9 Euros) includes three different locations: two very close within the town and his birthplace (a short drive outside of town). The 22-minute hologram story at his birthplace grabbed and held my attention. Simply fabulous. In short, the man was off-the-charts brilliant … and much more than I ever realized!

Enjoy images of Vinci, which are surrounded by quotes from one of the great intellectuals ever to live.

“The knowledge of all things is possible.”
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“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions – yet, the greatest deception men suffer is from their own perceptions. Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws that she never breaks, and she has no effect without causes nor invention without necessity.”
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“The acquisition of knowledge is always of use to the intellect, because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good.”
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“Experience is the mother of all Knowledge. Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”
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“Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”
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“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.”
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“Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.”
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“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
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“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
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“The processes of science are sure,~but there are regions where we cannot follow them. Our body is subject to heaven, and heaven is subject to the spirit. I speak not against the sacred books, for they are supreme truth.”
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Leonardo da Vinci … an artist, inventor, painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician, writer, explainer, philosopher engineer, scientists, and one who studied to explain botany, human anatomy, aerodynamics, optics, hydraulics, and more … yet, near the end of his life said, “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”

On the Rest of the Journey

This post is a synopsis of the rest of our trip. Previous post provided info about the most prominent stops. Not that the remaining stops don’t merit their own post, but I don’t want to drone on about this trip.

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Gibraltar (UK)
I thought Gibraltar was a small peninsula with a big rock at it’s point. Wow, was I ever wrong because it’s primarily a rock with 30,000 people living around it’s base. We walked from the dock to the tram (which took us to the top), then we walked down, and back to the ship. Of all our days on this trip, this was our highest count of walking steps – 24,500+.

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Caves, tunnels, views, and monkeys entertained us on the way down. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the airport with a main road crossing the runways, so see this 1-minute video. The return trip through the strait was at night … and with city lights on each side of the ship, one can tell Africa and Gibraltar are closer than one may think.

Montserrat
We visited Montserrat while in Barcelona. Located about 30 minutes outside the city, it’s a monastery located at the top of the Serrated Mountains. Within the altar is the Black Madonna. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience the stunning views because of the lingering fog – but we are glad we went. Because of the fog, here’s a link to a Google Images search to accompany mine.


Cadiz
Cadiz (KA diz) is the closest port to Seville (Sevilla), but getting there is a 2-hour trip in each direction. Given we were only in port 8-5, we first visited Jerez (the next section), then spent the afternoon in the Cadiz’s Old City. To me, Cadiz was the most unexpected surprise of the trip. The Old City was vibrant, and a grand cathedral serves as its hub. Thumbs up!


Jerez de la Frontera (Jerez)
From Cadiz, we took a ship’s tour to Jerez, a 20-minute ride from the port. Walking through it’s main square and past the Alcazar castle of the Moors, the focus of our tour was the Gonzalez Byass Bodegas that produces sherry (wine). We loved both the tour and the sherry samples.


Cartagena
Founded in 227 BC by the Carthaginians, today’s Cartagena is a small city for 200,000+ nestled in a small bay flanked by 5 mountains. The dock is close, so we strolled the streets to the Roman theater, the old bullring, the waterfront, and to the Castillo de la Concepcion for panoramic views of the city.


Palma de Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca, the largest city and capital of the Balearic Islands, was our first stop after leaving Barcelona. It was a Sunday, so many stores were closed and the local free walking tour we wanted wasn’t available. The weather was beautiful, so we made the best of what we could without a map.


Although more posts about this trip may appear over time, the links to past posts from the rest of the cruise are below.

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On Malaga

Welcome to Malaga, Spain!
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Malaga (MA la ga) is a popular stop for cruise ships. After all, it’s the capital of the Costa del Sol and the port taking travelers inland to Granada and its famed La Alhambra. This city of over 500,000 residents has much to offer because it’s cosmopolitan – thus fusing the new with the old.

Malaga a resort city with nearby resort towns.


Atop a hill, the Alcazaba is a sign for Malaga’s past ties to the Moors …
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While being just below a protective fortress (Castle of Gibralfaro), Alcazaba overlooks an older structure from Roman times.


The Old City is right there with the newer parts of the city in the distance and on the other side of the hill.


Predictably, a grand cathedral towers over the Old City.

 

We loved the other sights as we walked the narrow streets.


Yes – Malaga was a good port on its own – and to think I was going to cover Malaga with a handful of images in the next catch-all post.

On Lisbon

Given that neither of us had ever been to Portugal and we’ve heard many good things about it, we were looking forward to our 2-days in Lisbon. My initial plans was a 2-day exploration of the different neighborhoods and city center, but the one-day in Sintra throw the plan out the window. But our overnight stay on the ship gave us these views of the day ahead.

Our Scottish dinner friends (Alex and Evelyn) took a hop-on hop-off tour of Lisbon. It was a two-day ticket, and they unexpectedly gave it to us. The overview was good, and we still had some time to walk and explore. Here’s your quick tour of our beautiful day in Lisbon.

I’ve always thought Lisbon was on the coast, but it actually sits on the Tegas (Tejo) River, a short distance from the Atlantic Ocean. Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) is a grand square along the river leading to the gates of the city (Baixa district – BYE shah). On our walk to Rosario Station to get our train to Sintra, we saw a lively city center.

Of the neighborhoods, I was most likely forward to Alfama, on old neighborhood a small hill east of Baixa. Dating back to the 6th century, it remains a bustling neighborhood with narrow streets and alleys. Lisbon still uses a few classic trolleys, and one accesses Alfama. Although we got to Alfama, the time was too short for me.

Belem is a district 3 miles (5 km) west of city center. It served as the send-off point for sailors, many who prayed at Monastery of Jeronimos – a very long structure with a beautiful church that houses the tomb of Vasa da Gama.

Belem anchors one end of a bridge that resembles San Francisco’s Golden Gate – yes – the same architect. The Belem Tower guarded the port and the Monument to the Discoveries (a salute to the early Portuguese explorers) are in a park along the water. The large Praça do Império (Empire Square) with a beautiful fountain sits in front of the monastery.

At 5 pm on the second day, it was time to sail away. Great weather and great views touched the heart. Son long Portugal, and may we meet again.

On an Unplanned Journey

When we started our trip, Sintra (SEEN tra) wasn’t on our radar – not even a thought. While on a free walking tour in Barcelona, a couple from New Zealand highly recommended it for our stop in Lisbon.

The cruise ship had tours to Sintra, which several of our dinner-table mates took, but we love to explore on our own. Fortunately, we had American travel guru Rick Steves’ Lisbon book along, which included Sintra – so we followed his suggestions, thus saw sights our fabulous dinner friends didn’t – so this post is for them. (Can you believe I didn’t tell them on the cruise that I was a blogger? … but I have sent them an email about this post.)

Back in the day, the aristocracy loved to retreat to Sintra. The vegetation, hilltop views, the narrow-valley setting turned the area into a collection of palaces and mansions. Lord Byron described Sintra as “glorious Eden”.

It was a 20-minute walk from the ship to Rosario station, where we caught the train to Sintra (11 Euros round-trip for two). After the nice 40-minute ride to the end of the line, we searched for bus #434 that Rick told us to find (10 Euros for 2 on the entire loop) – so up the mountain we went to the first stop. Again, following Rick’s suggestion, we purchased the combo ticket in order to avoid the lines at the next stop – and it worked!

The Castle of the Moors is a Portuguese national treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Moors constructed the castle in the 8th century, and remained in control until the 12th century.

It’s location atop the Sintra mountain provides wonderful views in multiple directions, including the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. The town of Sintra is directly below (with the National Palace), plus one can see various palaces and mansions.

From this location, we could see our next stop sitting atop a nearby mountain – the Pena National Palace – another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Pena started as a chapel in the late 15th century, and eventually became a monastery. In the 19th century, Portuguese royalty expanded it into a palace of multiple designs and color.

The inside was predictably opulent.

… and we could easily see the Castle of the Moors.

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Before ending this post, here’s a quick tour of town. Sintra quaint with many shops. The National Palace (the coned towers) is from the 15th century , was active for 500 years, and is still used today for ceremonial occasions. That palace is in the center of town (see the views from the castle.) Can you spot the Castle of the Moors in a pic?