Quick Visits to Madeira, Casablanca, Barcelona, and Genoa

The first two ports of call after crossing most of the Atlantic Ocean were quite different from each other. First, the island of Madeira in the Atlantic and then Morocco in northwestern Africa. Two very different places we were quite curious about. Madeira is very green and agricultural, while Casablanca is a large city in north Africa, with its dust and noise.

After that, we had a short visit to Barcelona and a day in Genoa.

Madeira, Portugal

Our first stop in Europe was at Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Funchal, which means fennel, is the capital city and quite a bit larger than we expected. But like the rest of Portugal, it is extremely hilly. The town and suburbs all seemed quite affluent and well-kept, owing to their trade wealth. While I’m sure it took the original settlers quite some time to get there, today Funchal is only 1.5 hours from Lisbon by air. We were told it is quite inexpensive to live there. A nice flat would cost 900€/mo and the food in the grocery store was fairly cheap as well.

The Madeira Landscape

The island is lush and green, which owes to the daily rain. The rain and the temperate climate make it a wonderful place to grow bananas but we were told snow has fallen above 6000 feet. I am sure they grow other things, like grapes to produce Madeira wine. But to us, it seemed like every square bit of land going up and down the hills was covered with banana trees. Apparently, they produce 20 thousand tons of bananas a year, mostly for export to Europe.

Nearly all of the excursions visit the tops of cliffs. They are proud to have the 2nd tallest cliff in Europe and they want to show all of their visitors. Tunnels have also been built that reduce the time to the viewpoints from several hours to less than an hour. The cliffs are spectacular and you can look down to some beautiful beaches. On the way to the viewpoints, in addition to bananas, we saw African Tulip trees (an invasive species in Hawaii) and Norfolk pines. Not surprising on an island. We have seen Norfolk pines on most of the islands we have visited. They were planted by sailors because their trunks make good ship masts and repairs were frequently needed.

Food on Madeira

Since we were in Portugal, we were on a hunt for traditional Portuguese baked goods. These include malasadas, as we had in Hawaii, and Pastel de Nata, from Lisbon. In addition, there are local delicacies such as a honey cake made with local sugar cane and a drink called poncha, made with local sugar cane rum (aguadente de cana), sugar cane honey, and orange juice. It is just a little too yummy, similar to Agua de Valencia. We tried both the cake and the drink, and, while good, we wouldn’t make them on our own.

I think after visiting the Azores and Madeira, it is time to start visiting Spain’s islands, specifically the ones in the Mediterranean.

Casablanca, Morocco

Our cruise brochure offered many different excursions both in and outside Casablanca. While we could have gone to Rabat, the capital, or Marrakesh, they were both many hours away and we figured since we were in Casablanca, we should see Casablanca. As it was, it was a long day in port.

The biggest tourist attraction in Casablanca is the fairly new (1990s) Hassan II Mosque, which can hold 20000 people inside and 85000 people outside. The mosque took six years to build and cost $700 million. This mosque has a retractable roof and is the 2nd largest mosque in the world. The most beautiful part of this mosque is the intricate plasterwork throughout the inside of the building. Many other buildings in Casablanca, including the Kings’ Palace are in the Spanish/Moorish style. We were only able to see the outside of the palace. We were told during the Arab Spring the king gave up some power in order to keep the peace. He no longer picks the prime minister, but he can reject the suggestions of his staff about the appointment. Apparently, that was enough.

More of Our Tour

Our tour also took us through the Anfa neighborhood with homes in the $5,000,000 range. We saw nice beaches, and fancy shopping areas, and took a very fast walk through the closed market, but we didn’t actually visit a traditional bazaar. We did note that the town was very clean and much of the architecture was art deco. Still, most places only took cash (which we didn’t have) and I wouldn’t want to wander around on my own.

We were told that their largest export is phosphorus and their largest import is fertilizer, otherwise, we didn’t really learn a lot about the place. At the end of the tour, they tried to take us to a store that had lots of ‘local crafts.’ Having been through the “rug store” bit before, I got really angry because the tour guide wouldn’t tell me what time we should meet the bus until he got us into the store. We left immediately, as did some other people who knew what was coming.

Another couple on our tour who had traveled extensively in the region said Marrakesh was a much nicer place to visit, so maybe next time.

Barcelona, Spain

Very early in the morning between Morocco and Barcelona, we passed the Rock of Gibraltar. So of course Mike set up the time-lapse video.

Our ship arrived in Barcelona afternoon and there were two, possibly three, things we wanted to do. First, we went to the Boqueria on Las Ramblas for a drink and a snack of shrimp cooked in garlic olive oil. We had this on a prior trip and we couldn’t wait to get back. Second, was going to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya at the base of Parc de Montjuic, facing Place de Espana. This time we actually managed to get into the museum to see the building and the meeting space, as well as the art by local artists of the last century.

Finally, we needed more fortification, so after walking about halfway down the hill from the museum, we were able to catch an Uber to Avenida de Blai (affectionately known as Tapas Street.) After enjoying pintxos and traditional Spanish summer drinks, we returned to the ship in a happy Spanish daze. I will probably never tire of this vibrant city and will return every chance I get.

Genoa, Italy

We spent our day in Genoa with friends we met on the cruise. I expected Genoa to be like Trieste, which we visited last summer. However, I found that the town was quite different and seemed quite a bit larger too. After quickly looking at the old port, we took a taxi to the center of town and headed for the famous fountain in the Piazza De Ferrari. Then we headed to visit the last remaining 12-century city wall at Porta Soprana. There was also a pretty little Roman temple that had been turned into a church. After a quick visit to the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in the center of town, we headed to Via Garibaldi. By that time we had to refresh and rejuvenate ourselves with a lovely authentic Italian meal.

Once reinforced, we headed to the Strada Nuova, where 5 centuries ago the Genovese nobility built their fabulous mansions. We were able to visit the three of them. They have become museums Palazzo Rosso, Palazzo Bianco, and Palazzo Tursi. We were all quite tired by that point so we started heading back to the port, but a local woman told us about an elevator to a viewpoint that was free and very close by.

It is called the Esplanade of Castelletto and the view from the top was fantastic. It was, but getting back to the ship from the top was a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, we managed to take a bus and we made it back to the ship with 15 minutes to spare. It was a long but really fun day. Maybe next time we are in the area, we will spend a few days here and explore the city more fully.

Which of these stops would you enjoy most?

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1 comment

  1. On Madeira, why didn’t you take the “basket sled ride” down the steep streets? Had you already done it? We thought it was super fun! We too, were on a cruise where we visited the Rock of Gibraltar for a day. Like you said, that was a busy day!

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