By Mary Jo
A week ago, I told you about the first part of our recent cruise vacation, which described London and the shipboard experience. Today I want to talk about our three ports of call while we were still in European waters.
Originally we were scheduled to stop in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, then Madeira, then Bermuda when the ship was most of the way across the Atlantic. But Bermuda's landing requirements were so complicated and difficult that the cruise line canceled Bermuda and added in Lisbon as the first stop out of Britain.
Great idea! We visited Lisbon once before on our way to cruising the Douro River in Northern Portugal, the cruise that inspired my book Once a Soldier. I remember it as a hilly city of broad boulevards, which were a result of a devastating earthquake in 1755. The destruction was vast, and much of the city was rebuilt according to more modern principles.
So much for the history. I was delighted to be able to book us a tuktuk tour of the older parts of the city! Tuktuks are like glorified electric golf carts and variations are used all over the world, particularly in warmer climates since they aren't usually fully enclosed like automobiles. A tuktuk has no springs, which was pretty noticeable when rumbling over cobblestones! The Mayhem Consultant said he now had a better appreciation of my characters when they spoke of traveling in "well-sprung carriages." <G>
Lisbon is a city of many grand churches, and the oldest of all is the Cathedral of Saint Mary Major. Construction began in the 12th century, which was an era of great cathedral building across Europe. (I'm in front, very small because it's a very large cathedral.)
We traveled up and down hills, admiring more churches and grand vistas. I liked this relaxed hilltop park, where families enjoyed themselves and musicians played in the open air. Tourism professionals know people like to be fed, so everyone on a tuktuk tour was treated to a local specialty, warm custard tarts, served with a small glass of the famous port wine. Absolutely delicious and a lovely goodbye to Lisbon.
Our next stop was Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The Canaries are one of several archipelagos in the Atlantic and are a Spanish autonomous community. They are only 62 miles from Morocco at their closest approach to Africa and the islands are a very popular tourist destination because of the warm climate, beautiful beaches, and the dramatic scenery that comes with the islands' volcanic origins. The total population is about 2.2 million people spread over eight major islands.
We took a coach tour that gave an overview of dramatic hills and a very clean, modern city. Remember what I said about feeding the tourists? We ended in a former religious foundation that is now a restaurant complex and were served coffee and snacks in an open sided pavilion with lovely views, Then it was onward to Madeira.
Our last stop was Funchal, the capital of Madeira, a smaller Atlantic archipelago 250 miles north of the Canaries, and with a similar mild climate that appeals to visitors, particularly those from Britain and Germany. Originally uninhabited, it was claimed by Portuguese sailors in 1419 and is considered the first territorial acquisition of the Age of Discovery. Today there are two main islands with a population around a quarter of a million.
I'd hired a private guide, Miguel, and he gave us a marvelous tour of the island. He mentioned that in the Age of Discovery, Portugal was land hungry because so much of the country is mountainous and not very arable. Madeira is also volcanic and mountainous like the Canaries, but the rich volcanic soil is a farmers' paradise that can produce four crops a year.
Having grown up on a farm, I was impressed at how intensely planted much of the island was. It seemed like every cultivatable inch of land supported various crops. Look at how closely buildings and crops are set together. This banana plant was right on the roadside. Miguel said that when the purple blossom on the bottom fell off, the bananas were ready to be harvested. Very convenient!
We saw a harbor with fishing boats, a cable rise rising up a steep cliff, and because we were in a four wheel drive vehicle, we went four-wheeling through the prehistoric laurel forest high in the mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was misty, lovely and very Middle Earthish up there.
Along with the lovely tourism, I had a work deadline, which was to go over the page proofs of Lady of Fortune, a very early book of mine that I polished up and Kensington is reissuing. Going over page proofs is a matter of looking for typos, punctuation errors, or other errors that might have been missed. Unessential changes are NOT encouraged!
It's not a difficult process, but it does take time. Usually I would have received proofs earlier, but we all know what the last two years have been like. This lot were sprung on me just before we left for London on holiday. The book will be released on February 21st so the production schedule was tight!
After a lot to-ing and fro-ing between me and the production editor over how to get the proofs in on time, I took a track changes version of the document on my laptop, and between custard tarts, I carefully went over the proofs which were due October 27th. More importantly, I needed to be able to email the document to New York while we were in European waters with decent WiFi.
Luckily I was successful and mailed the manuscript off from Tenerife, because when we got into the open ocean, wifi was minimal to non-existent. So with proofs delivered, we were free to read, laze and eat our way across the Atlantic Ocean. Travel is wonderful–and so is going home!
Mary Jo, remembering the custards with great fondness