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Been There, Done That – Spain, Morocco, and Portugal

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Excerpts from Jack and Gigi Cawood’s travel journal.

The title of “been there, done that” implies that once might be enough for some places, but in our case, traveling this past week on a cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon, we definitely want to go back and revisit some of these areas.

Our travels were on the cruise line of Silver Seas, a somewhat small ship that would carry about 350 guests at capacity. The ship was 7/8’s full, – plenty of people to mix with, but not so many that it was crowded. Of course, smaller ships have a wonderful ambiance, and this ship was a perfect example of that.

All of the cabins are spacious, at least 300 sq. feet, and most have small outdoor decks. Room service brings breakfast; you sit on your balcony, and watch cities come into view, and spring to life with buses and taxis, ready to whisk you into new vistas. A great way to start each day!

We were traveling with dear friends, Barb and Jerry Schaberg, and this trip was a special way to see parts of the world that we four haven’t experienced yet – a taste of an area that lets you discover if you would want to return in the future.

The itinerary of this trip, the Costa del Sol of Spain, parts of Morocco, and Portugal was appealing to us, and we enjoyed the variety of ports. Casablanca was the most different culturally, and I guess that once will be enough there. However, I was severely disappointed to find out that one of the other passengers had scouted out Louis Vuitton knockoffs in the market place that I thought too crowded and busy to explore! The pics of the palaces and museums will have to do in my memento album…

Of the stops the ship made, I personally liked the city in Spain called Malaga – that day one of the choices was a side trip to Marbella, and that is a darling town that we would put on the “to do again” list. small, clean and tidy side streets, beautiful flowers (early fall is a great time to visit this area, with the temps being perfect and the crowds gone), affordable shops, friendly people.

One of the best features about a cruise is the opportunity to see several different areas without the hassle of unpacking, driving, finding hotels, etc. The flexibility of the ship means that if you want to relax during the day, you may, or you can sign up for some of the tours and explore. The tours are of different places and schedules so that maybe a half day sightseeing is just right, or in our case while in Morrocco, we took a long 13 hour tour to Marrakech. Variety is the spice – and seeing such a different culture was broadening for us. Long, yes – hot, yes, but to see the Atlas Mountains, have lunch at the finest hotel in all of Africa (so they told us), and experience firsthand the Muslim way of life is something that we are glad we did.

Thus said, it was mighty nice to get back to our ship, enjoy dinner and a shower, and be lulled to sleep knowing that the next day would be yet another adventure.

One day was spent at sea. Getting from Casablanca to Lisbon found us in choppy waters, but I think it was really just the currents in the merging of the waters from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean near the straits of Gilbraltar.

Each cruise line has it’s special niche, or area of specialty. Silver Seas is very comparable with Radisson Seven Seas in the areas of service, quality of food, cabin size, free spirits, and the no tipping policy. Silver Seas offers drinks all day long from any of their bars without charge, and they stock your minibar/refrig with your choice of alcoholic beverages at the beginning of the cruise. A nice perk – afternoon treats while sitting around the pool make for a very relaxing mood.

The spa was a busy place, but I didn’t see many using the golf facilities (batting cage with instruction if desired). I know some of the passengers got off and played golf at some of the stops while we did the tours of the sights. Always something for everyone.

We got to know the tour director, and he made the dinners we had with him special. Fun to get the inside scoop on things.

My only real criticism would be that too many of the captain’s gatherings were held in the lounge, and as it was outfitted with theatre style seats, we didn’t get to mix with the other passengers as you might have, had it been a stand-up cocktail party in a different style of room.

We chose to lengthen our trip by arriving in Barcelona early and staying in Lisbon at the other end of the cruise a couple of days. We wanted to explore these areas, and found them both to be delightful. We like to get an overview of a town, and have had good luck in obtaining English-speaking drivers from our hotels. They will tailor their time with you to suit your interests, and forming a friendship with them makes you feel a little close to that country. We have done this enough to feel comfortable about doing it, and have been rewarded with quality people who really want to show you their town. Our guide in Lisbon was a perfect example – he took us around to the obvious tourist sights, found a great place for coffee and a local sweet treat, and even was so kind as to pick us up the next morning at 4 AM for our ride to the airport. We were staying in a hard-to-find, but charming inn right next to an ancient castle – the views of the city were fabulous, and we left wanting another trip, another cruise, another adventure.

Travel is wonderful – and we feel fortunate to have had a grand and CLASSIC experience. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, LET’S GO AGAIN!