Fretwell's Travel Journal: Chapter 10 -- Cadiz, Spain to home.

May 5th -- We arrived in Cadiz, Spain at 8 am this morning. Cadiz is a small, ancient city, one of the oldest continuously inhabited ones in Spain, situated on a narrow peninsula which forms a natural, well protected harbor. The harbor is the reason for the city. Because the peninsula is so narrow, the 124,000 inhabitants are jammed tightly together into one of the most densely populated areas in all of Europe. Columbus sailed from this city in his second and fourth voyages. Cadiz has some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Spain.

Ardie is suffering from stomach problems, so we elected to stay on shipboard. In truth, we've seen so many cities this trip, missing this one doesn't seem to matter much. We spent the day reading two excellent books and checking out good movies from the front desk.

May 6th -- We arrived in Lisbon, Portugal at 10 am this morning. Lisbon is the capital of Portugal, and also its largest city (pop. ~ 3 million), with almost 27 percent of the country's population. It is also the westernmost large city in Europe, and the oldest city in Europe. It has the largest container port on Europe's Atlantic coast, and is considered a global city for its economic importance. It has a history almost as rich as Rome's. It is a beautiful city, and one I'd like to return to, to see more of its ancient history. We did not, however, take a tour of the city, staying on shipboard instead.

While in Lisbon, three Cunard Lines Cruise Ships, the Queen Mary II, Queen Elisabeth, and Queen Victoria, all steamed out of port in close formation. It was quite a sight, watching them all pass under the high bridge over the harbor. We wondered what special occasion caused Cunard Lines to have three of their most important ships all in Lisbon on the same day, and all leaving at the same time. We never learned the answer.

May 7 & 8 -- We're in our last two "at sea" days, headed for Southampton, England. The North Atlantic is running six-foot swells that are hitting our ship on the beam, causing a good deal of rolling from side to side. We walk down the hallways like drunken sailors, with feet wide apart to brace against the roll. We're well accustomed to such sea action now, so no danger of sea sickness, but it is a bit of exercise to get to and from the dining hall. We've been in heavy fog for these two days, and the ship sounds its foghorn every 2 or 3 minutes, depending on our speed and the closeness of the fog. Maritime law requires that the ship sound its foghorn whenever visibility drops below 2 miles, and the frequency of the sounding depends on the ship's speed. I'd guess that visibility was below one-half mile for much of these two days.

May 9th -- We berthed in Southampton, England at 7 am. About half of the passengers debark here, and no new passengers will be taken on here. We are in port strictly for this debarkation, and will be in port for only 4 hours, so no tours are available, and there isn't much to see by going on land. Ardie used the morning to do laundry, and I caught up on this journal.

Like in Lisbon, three Cunard Lines Cruise Ships, the Queen Mary II, Queen Elisabeth, and Queen Victoria, are all here with us. We wondered what special occasion caused Cunard Lines to have three of their most important ships all in Lisbon on the same day, and all leaving at the same time, and now to see them all here makes the mystery even greater. It must be a very popular cruise route for them to run all there of their ships together.

We came into Southampton before I was up in the morning, so I stood on deck for about an hour as we departed, watching the countryside as we sailed down the River Itchen to the English Channel. The temperature was 54 degrees, the wind was howling, there was a smattering of rain, and many sailboats were out enjoying the wind. It was a pleasant experience watching the sailboats and the beautiful countryside, until the chill drove me back inside.

May 10th -- Today we are in Rotterdam, and we disembark from our 57-day cruise. We had planned on a post-cruise 5-day land tour of Rotterdam, Brussels, and London before flying home from London; but we have abandoned our land tour, and will fly home from Amsterdam this afternoon.

We cut out our land tour because Ardie is suffering from stomach problems. She has periodic flare ups of GERDS, usually caused by some gastro "event," as occurred this time. She never fully recovered from our 3-day episode with food poisoning, and it has made her miserable enough she didn't want to undergo the strenuous land travel, and I wholeheartedly agreed that she's better off back in Mesa as soon as possible, so we're on our way home, and should get home before midnight today. We expect Ardie's GERDS to abate quite soon after we get her home and on foods of her own making and choice.

The bus views while driving in Rotterdam and on to Amsterdam were a good introduction to the Netherlands. It is flat. Flat as a pile of pee.

The water table seems to be not far below land surface, judging from the water levels in drainage canals. The land is fertile, and the farmland would melt the heart of any farmer, both for the beauty and for the immaculate management of the farms. We saw many old windmills, but only one of them was actually turning.

The architecture in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam are uniquely Dutch, very tasteful and restrained. The streets, sidewalks, trolley-car rails, and buildings are all spic-and-span. I like this country very much. I tried to get photos of the old windmills out of the side windows of our bus. Due to light reflection, the pics are best taken at 90 degrees to the window, so that is what I tried on the windmills. To my frustration, just as I was ready to take a pic, we'd go into an underpass. After the second one, it dawned on me that the freeway was going under the canals that the windmills were on! I'm amazed it took twice for me to figure out that I wasn't going to get a good pic of a windmill out of the bus window.

We had lunch in the Amsterdam airport. Prices are outrageous, but we were hungry, and we decided we'd share a slice of pizza. Once slice, smaller than you'd get at our Costco, a diet coke, and a garlic twist cost $15.75! The price was acceptable until we tried the pizza. If you know what the Pizza Hut mini-pizzas that are available in American airports are like, you know they aren't gourmet. But, when compared to the one we got in Amsterdam, they definitely would be considered gourmet in Holland!

We found the Amsterdam airport quite interesting, probably because we had 5 hours to kill there before our flight. Unlike American airports, where security checks are done at the entrance to each "wing" of an airport, in Amsterdam they have a security checkpoint at every gate. Their approach means that they don't try to secure any part of the airport except the gangways to the planes, immediately after the security checkpoint at that gate. In America, every wing of the airport is considered a secured area, and they have to worry about possible ingress from the many doorways that lead out of the secured area. Holland's approach is much less likely to be physically breached, but it is also far more expensive. Holland's approach also makes the boarding process far slower, because the security check occurs right at boarding.

Another difference is that Amsterdam's airport gates have almost no seating. They expect customers to spend their waiting time in the commercial zone of the airport, and to come to the gate only when ready to board. We definitely prefer the American approach; we like to get to our gate, get comfortably seated, and read a book while we wait for departure.

Because of our coming home 5 days earlier than planned, we were in a "take whatever flights are available" mode, and had to fly Delta. Not may favorite airline, to be sure, and a far cry poorer than the excellent Cathay Pacific Airlines flights we took from Phoenix to Singapore. Some of the differences? Cathay Pacific allows two free checked-luggage. Delta is down to one, and bragging about that one still being free. Cathay Pacific has good food; Delta's is barely edible. Delta now has a mini-TV built into the backs of each seat, like Cathay Pacific, but they run ads that you cannot turn off at the start of each flight. Delta's flights also have far less (and poorer) choices of movies, music, and TV. But, the flights were safe, and we got home on time, despite heavy headwinds and some terrific turbulence over Kansas.

Our day today lasted 33 hours, due to losing 9 hours traveling west from Amsterdam to Phoenix, and we were awake for 26 hours. Our friends, Johnnie and Linda Elkins picked us up, and we got home at about 10 pm, very tired, but glad to be home.

May 11th -- Postscripts: It feels good to be back in our own home and bed. Our trip was truly a trip of a lifetime, and I enjoyed it all immensely. Ardie enjoyed it immensely too, until her gastro incident, and after that it was less pleasant for her, but still a time of close togetherness, and enjoyable shows. She has no regrets; but she is very happy to be home.

I don't think there is any better way to get a quality geography lesson than to take an extensive cruise like ours. I absolutely love seeing countries firsthand. Geography books just can't do the same thing as seeing with one's own eyes, and sensing with all one's senses. The hop-skip-and-jump from city to city gives one only a teaser taste, but it is enough to know which places we'd want to return to.

The only thing I'd do differently for this particular cruise is to divide it into two segments. A 40-day cruise is great, and I am still excited and thrilled with each port of call. I learned on this 57-day cruise, however, that after about 42 days I had lost much of my excitement for seeing yet another city, yet another port, yet another cathedral, yet another ruin. And that should not be! These are exciting countries and exciting cities. It is a disservice to them to be sated when one sees them. Rome, Italy and Almeria, Spain definitely got my attention in the last part of the cruise, but many of the other ports were not given due diligence.

I absolutely am not complaining about the extra 17 days beyond that magic boundary, however. I read about 20 books (Ardie probably topped 50!); and we saw at least 24 movies together, watched most of the Holland America nightly shows, enjoyed good food, and had a great time. It was indeed a trip of a lifetime.

-- Marvin O. Fretwell, 5/11/2014

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