Sunday, March 31, 2019

Funchal, Madeira (Portugal)

Love graffiti!
After spending three straight days in a row driving around islands, I was tempted to skip Funchal. Once I looked out of the window in our cabin I was intrigued enough to make the effort to go and take a look; I am so glad that I did!

Typically when we leave the ship there are many taxis waiting, prepared to start fighting over you, to take you on a tour. At this port, there was only one taxi. The driver did not speak English but we got the jest of what he was saying, "I only go to city center, no tours, and do NOT bother me!" lol He was rude and unhappy but he managed to get a few people to hop into his cab.

After he left another one pulled in. We asked him the same thing if he could take us on a tour and he responded with hand gestures that basically said to get away from him and to wait "over there!"
We waited for a few minutes while enjoying the graffiti on the wall and decided to start walking away from the terminal, and towards the city and boy were we glad that we did!

The first young man that we came upon spoke excellent English and asked if it was our first time on the island. We asked him if he did tours and he said yes. He showed us what he thought was the best use of our time, and when we figured out that he was going to be our driver, and that he was not going to put us into a cab with a non-English speaking driver we were all in! Again, 80 euros for a four-hour personal tour! He was the second cabbie that we tipped.

The first place that he took us was up a steep, winding road with homes built all over the hillside. We stopped at a vista point and looked out over the port and town of Funchal.

On a side note, the name Funchal was given to the island by the first settlers that landed on its' shore due to the abundance of wild fennel. The Portuguese word "funcho" (fennel) and the suffix "al" was used to denote a plantation of fennel. Pretty cool, huh?

After taking a few photos, we continued on up the hill to the top where the Village of Monte is located, on the outskirts of Funchal. There was a church at the top which I entered and found that mass was actually taking place, as it is Sunday. It was a very quaint church which was nearly full of worshippers.

Just below the church, we enjoyed watching people toboggan down the HUGE hill in wicker sledges, also know as baskets. It was many decades ago that this was the established mode of transportation between Monte and Funchal and how people brought food and goods down from the top of the mountain, to the village below. Of course, back then they had to carry their sledge back to the top, on their back.

If there hadn't have been such a long queue, I MAY have given it a try! lol

A sledge

After watching them for a while, we hopped back into the cab and followed them down the mountain. It was quite exciting to watching the guys on the back of the sledge maneuvering them down the steep hill, around corners and through intersections!

Eventually, we took a left and they kept right, and we headed another direction, to another vista point, Miradouro; Pico dos Barcelos which had an incredible view and a fabulous cafe at the top. We had the most delicious pastry thing. It tasted like a filo dough cup, filled with the best custard that I have ever eaten! It was so good that we ordered a second one; they were only one euro and it was then that  I decided it was a good thing that I did not live there, as I would become very FAT eating the special little custard cups!

Mass was going on

After lolly-gagging around and eating and looking at the view and flowers,  we headed to a small fishing village, Camara de Lobos, a place where Sir Winston Churchill created many beautiful paintings. The village was chock full of small fishing boats making it picturesque and charming.

Fishing Village
One of the boats had the funniest looking things hanging on lines, all over the entire boat. When I inquired what they were, I was told that it was salted cod, stretched and salted and left to dry. Looking at the hanging fish, I thought that they looked more like small animals, maybe bats, than fish.
Drying Cod

We did a little bit of shopping and bought another deck of cards, a sweater for me, and a wallet for Joe. I could have spent the entire day in that fishing village, but being that we had to be back on the ship on the earlier side, we headed back to the cab with our wares.

Pablo told us we had one more stop. I was secretly wishing that we were going to be heading back to the ship, as I was pooped, but he was not going to allow us to miss the last stop. After a short distance, over a bridge and through a tunnel, we arrived at Cabo Girao, the highest sea cliff in Europe!
Glass overlook

it was WAY down there!

It is also the second highest sea cliff in the world, and it has a glass-bottomed overhang, jutting out over the cliff. I do not know why it felt so scary to walk out on that Funchal, Madeira (Portugal), but it did! The tower bridge in London did not freak me out nearly as much as this one did!

higher than it looks

I think maybe because it was SO very high above the ocean below. Looking over the side, you could see gardens planted along the beach, and the waves crashing just below them. I was now secretly glad that I did not miss this last stop!

Tonight after dinner we are planning to watch the magic show and get ready to have a nice long sleep, with a totally relaxing sea day tomorrow!

I hope you are enjoying my crazy trip, and I hope to inspire you to get out and take one of your own! I would love to hear about your travels, too!

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

Tenerife, Canary Island

click, click, click!
I did manage to get a decent nights sleep last night so I am feeling tired, but pretty good. We decided to shorten our touring to three hours versus four as we were all a bit tired of islands, their traffic, and driving around them.

This island, which I learned today is actually the largest of the Canary Islands was mountainous, and the sky was a bit overcast. Our choice of cabs and drivers was limited to one, so we agreed to pay him 80 euros and we got into the cab with no idea of where he was taking us other than we could "click, click, click",  his words,  for photo ops. lol

The island was much more crowded with many more cars and people and with the cloudy skies, the lookouts were not as pretty as they could have been.

the dome was stunning
After stopping twice I told him to take us to a church! lol He had no idea what I was talking about so I showed him praying hands and the sign of the cross. He said "Yes, yes!" and off we went. The church was smack dab in the middle of a very busy intersection of cobbled streets, so getting out of the cab was a little tricky! It was a very old church with a stone floor that had many broken stones and wobbled when you walked.

There was a huge purple drape covering the back portion of the alter so it was hard to imagine whether or not what was hidden behind, was spectacular or under restoration. The rest of the church was pretty typical of what we had seen on the other islands, although not quite as picturesque.

After a short trip through the church, he drove us down to the tip of the island where the fancy resort was situated and there were streets and streets of cafes and Schottky shops. We were able to score some playing cards from Tenerife and the Canary Islands and then we went and sat at Cafe' de Paris.
I think we are four tired touristas!! The boys had cerveza and I had a coffee which was enough to allow us four passwords for one hour of internet use which we all used to touch base with everyone at home.

The cafe was charming but the servers were not!

I didn't find the people of Tenerife overly friendly and despite its' pretty terrain, I did not find it terribly inviting. I can check the Canary Islands off of my bucket list.

After having lunch at the buffet on the ship, we went to the bow to play cards where there was a great vantage point to observe the ship sailing away. There was a woman intently watching us play cards and eventually asked what we were playing. We told her we were playing Hearts, and she said, "When you start a new game, can I play?"

Love gargoyles!

We told her to come on over and we taught her the game; she was a kick! We now have a new friend, Genia, from Canada. She told us that she loved Indian food and that the Indian chef told her he would prepare a special Indian meal for her, for dinner with 24 hours notice, so it looks like we will be having a special meal, with Genia on Wednesday night! lol

Tonight was dinner in the Windows dining room with our favorite waiter Bariane and our new best friend Alin, from Romania, the Maitre'D. Alin said that he had worked with Bariane in another dining room on the ship and that he was very good. So good, that he sent all of his "high demanding" customers to Bariane's station. I told him that was why WE asked for Bariane every night because we were high demanding!

He laughed and said, "No, no! You are not high demanding!"

Next thing we knew Bariane was standing over us with the fancy wine list, the one with bottles only, and he told us that Alin would like to have us choose any bottle that we would like, his compliments!!

How crazy is that? We told him Thank you, but we had already ordered drinks and didn't think we should have a bottle of wine, too. He said pick one! I will send it to your room and you can have it anytime you like! So we chose a bottle of Asti Spumanti and we will have it either during, one of our fancy dinners at Cagney's Steak House, or Le Bistro or share it with Genia, on our special Indian food night.

I have never had so many staff members send us surprises and give us thing before. I certainly cannot complain about the service around here.

We decided to go to the show, it was a rock and roll, high energy show full of dancing and singing which was the perfect way to end the day. I loved the music, most of the singers, and one dancer in particular; she was AMAZING and it was obvious she was giving it her all; you could tell the rest of the dancers were just doing their job.

One more day before a sea day, I had tricked myself into believing that it was tomorrow, but NO! Tomorrow we will explore Funchal, Madiera. (Portugal)

Can you tell that my brain is fried??

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Las Palmas, Canary Island

Jardin de la Marquesa
Today we are exploring the largest of the Canary Islands: Gran Canaria. Since I am starting out the day very tired, we are going to see how much ground we can cover on a three-hour cab ride. This cost with a driver, who was very friendly and spoke very good English, was only 80 euro. The amount of money that we save by taking our own personal cabs versus the ship excursions is about 70%.

We love having our own personal tour guide as they take us where we want to go and wait for us at every stop. We often run into the tours from the ship and there are huge groups of people, all standing around waiting for each other before moving on. I would hate being on one of those large tours. I suppose I lack the patience and do not have the herd mentality.

Our first stop of the day was St. John the Baptist Church, founded on "Arehuca" valley in 1515 as a parish. They began building the church in 1909 and opened it for people in 1917, but it was not complete until 1977. It was quite magnificent as all Catholic churches seem to be.

Doesn't it look out of place?
Oddly enough, the church itself seemed so out of place in the village that surrounded it. It looked as though it was just plopped down amongst many small, quaint little shops, buildings and streets.

We enjoyed walking down these little streets and I used the tiniest bathroom, aka toilet, I have ever seen; it was even smaller than airplane lavatories! I could barely close the door while sitting on the toilet as the door hit my knees! It was loco, but when ya' gotta' go, you gotta' go!

After the toilet-break, we found a lovely little garden: "Jardin de la Marquesa" which we strolled through enjoying all of the species of flowers and plants.

After our visit in the village,  we headed up a volcanic mountain, where they actually filled in a crater, and built a restaurant at the top; the rent is so high for that restaurant that it hardly ever stays in business, so now it is mostly a look-out area, over the city. You can see many banana plantations, the ocean and the many different villages below.

Our cab driver's family owns a banana plantation so it was no surprise that he had a trunk full of bananas which he kept passing out all day long; to us, to people on the street and to other cab driver's. He also told us that the only crops were bananas, tomatoes, and potatoes.

We left the small village and headed to the Botanical Gardens which were lovely. I find it so very strange that the entire island is full of vegetation and is so very green when they only get a small amount of rain during December and January. The entire island's water comes from a desalination plant where they get the water from the ocean; you would think that Califonia could figure this one out, right?

The Botanical Gardens were full of cacti, flowers, plants, trees and lovely little ponds with turtles! They had interesting rock formations and a cool wooden bridge and a winding rock bridge, too.

After we were through walking through a small portion of the botanical garden, I was so tired and icky feeling I was ready to head back to the ship, but when I asked him where our last stop was and he told me another "old town", I sucked it up and forged forward.

Once we arrived there, in about fifteen minutes times, I saw another church and was very glad that we continued onward to the historic district of Vegueta. We went into the Cathedral of the Canaries which had a beautiful courtyard connected to the church. The church itself was grand, but I did not like it as much as St. John the Baptist's Church. There were several museum type rooms and corridors connected to the courtyard which we quickly perused before heading back to the small little streets outside.

I just love the old historic districts and could literally spend days just walking around enjoying the sights and sounds. I was really glad that I managed to make that last stop and felt that we had a really nice taste of the island.

On a side note; one may think that the "Canary Islands" were named after canaries, you know, the birds? I just found out that it was actually named after dogs! lol I am guessing "canines"? Since I do not currently have internet, I cannot look this up, but hope to when I am able.

We had our cabbie drop us at the mall, just outside the ship boarding area to have a sit-down and see if we could hook up to the internet. The boys had cervezas and I had a coffee in high hopes of revitalizing; finding internet and checking in with all of you, and back home was a success, unfortunately, the coffee revitalization was not; I was whooped and headed back to our room to rest.
I did manage to make it to dinner, but was unable to make it to the show; I was bummed but must realize that tomorrow is another day and I have already done and seen more on this cruise than I did on the entire last cruise.

Sometimes my excitement and enthusiasm make me forget that I really still have chronic myelogenous leukemia and that I take a powerful drug twice a day. I so want to be my old self and be able to be the Energizer Bunny that I once was, but the fact of the matter is after a few days of go, go go, it is going to catch up to me.

Today is that day. I am praying for a good nights sleep and a refreshed body tomorrow. One more day off of the ship and then we get a relaxing sea day.

Wish me luck!


Dragon Tree

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Friday, March 29, 2019

Arrecife, Lanzarote: Canary Island

No! I did not ride them!
Arrecife is the capital of Lanzarote, I believe; it is one of the Canary Islands, a place I have always heard of but never imagined that I would actually visit.

Getting off the ship and walking to the cab area was much easier and much nicer than Casablanca. There were few cabs to choose from and we negotiated a four-hour cab ride, to all of our sites for one hundred euros.

Our cab driver's boss agreed to the price to "make peace" which I believe was a really nice way of saying that he agreed to our price just to shut up the two crazy  Americano senoritas!

We were slightly disappointed that the boss was not going to be the one driving the cab as he spoke better English, but once we got into the air-conditioned Fiat, and the driver turned on the
English version audio tour we were thrilled! Hearing all about Lanzarote while driving from place to place was educational, and interesting.

The island was nothing like I would have expected. It is a desert full of lava fields. Much of it reminded me of Palm Springs, many decades ago. It was extremely clean and self-sustaining. They had strict rules and you could tell that they were followed.

It was fascinating driving through the country, it seemed that every square inch was planted with some type of crop, in volcanic ash, which absorbed water from the air and retained it, which was how the plants were actually watered, as there is little rain. There were walls and walls of lava rock dividers separating the crops. It was so very cool!

Our first stop was a church and you all know how I love churches! Ermita de Los Delores was a simple, quaint church with two bells on one side and a dome on the other. It was only one room but it was beautiful inside.

After spending a little time in and around the church, we headed for the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya which is a National Park full of lava fields, it is also known as the Fire Mountains. The cost was ten dollars per person for a forty-five-minute bus ride through the park. Not a single one of us had one euro and they did not take credit cards, so the cab driver paid for us to enter the park, and said he would add it to our cab fare, which was awesome!!

As we entered the park there was a long, long line of cars and a sign that said the wait could be an hour. I wasn't thrilled but within a minute of entering the park, our cab driver stuck his hand out of the window, waved at someone up ahead, and took off around all of those cars!! They literally closed the road and let us drive past all of the cars, all of the ways to the top, to get directly on the bus; He was now my new hero!

Driving through the park was quite interesting and I wondered if they had filmed things like Lost in Space or moon landings there; it would have been perfect. Once we got off of the bus tour, we saw a geyser shoot up into the air, burned our hands (only a little) on some rocks that were picked up from the ground and watched them cook chicken over this huge, deep pit that had heat rising from the earth. It was 500 degrees Celsius! It was crazy HOT!

After we left the park we stopped where they were taking groups of people on camel rides. These rides were two hours long and were on seats on either side of the camel. Not my idea of fun, but our cab driver pulled over and insisted we got out so he could take our photo standing by the camel. He said that was it was "for free"!  He just cracked me up.
Lava rock walls protecting plants.

On down the road we stopped at Los Hervideros which reminded me of the Blue Grotto in Malta. The water was so blue in the rock and lava cave that it was hard to believe that it was the Atlantic Ocean. We walked down and around the entire area and enjoyed taking picture after picture.

Cooking chicken over the heat from the earth.
We stopped at another church which looked the same on the outside, but was different yet also beautiful, on the inside. It was situated in a small neighborhood in Yiza but I do not remember the name. I found it very interesting that every home and building was painted white and the only other paint colors were brown and green which were used as trim.

Our last stop of the day was a winery. I was amazed that they were actually able to grow grapes, to make wine in such an arid environment. The grapes grew in the volcanic ash and were surrounded by a half circle or lava rock. I am not much of a drinker, but the sweet wine that our cabbie scored for us for "free, no charge" was delicious.

We thoroughly enjoyed the day, and I got a chuckle out of the cab drivers choice of music as soon as we left the winery, to drive back to the ship. Apparently, the tour was over and he was done listening to the audio tour! haha

Once back on the ship we had a little snack, played some cards had a great dinner with our new favorite waiter Barianne, from the Phillipines, and saw a Cirque de Soleil show.

Yesterday was a day at sea, we spent it relaxing, playing cards and reading. We actually even saw a wedding! We ate at the fancy steak house where my filet was cooked to perfection, and when we got back to our room, we had chocolate covered strawberries waiting for us which were delivered to our room from our new friend, the Maitrede Luke, in the French restaurant.

It seems strange to have no connection to the outside world, but I am still writing and will update you all as I can.

Goodnight for now; it was a good tummy day!

Oven with heat from the earth

Reminds me of the Blue Grotto in Malta

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Bricks for the Brave!!