Fretwell's Travel Journal: Chapter 9 -- Livorno to Gibraltar.

April 27th -- We arrived at Livorno, Italy at about 8 am, to a cold, steady rainfall, which continued all day. We had planned a "roll-our-own" walking tour, but because of the rain we stayed onboard. A good book, a warm blanket, and a cozy room are always good medicine for a rainy day.

April 28th -- We arrived at Genoa, Italy about 7:30 am, and I took a tour to a small fishing village about 1 hour distant from Genoa. When we booked our trip, we were scheduled to stay in Santa Margherita, Italy, today, but for some unstated reason Holland America substituted Genoa. It really mattered little to Ardie or me, because we know so little about Italy; one town is as good as another -- until we learn more.

Genoa is pretty, and the climate is wonderful, except it rained all morning during my tour. The little fishing village was, in my mind, scarcely a village. I think the harbor housed about 10 small boats equipped with monofilament nets. Perhaps half the boats were one-fisherman vessels, and the others were two person. It was a very picturesque setting, but we had to walk down steep streets and steps to reach the harbor, so coming back up was quite a challenge. My legs got an unusual workout today, because I try to avoid strenuous exertions whenever possible. It was unavoidable today, and the setting was nice, and the rain kept me cool, so I won't complain -- although my legs are complaining to me this evening.

I had a really good laugh at human nature today. Genoa is historically known, according to our tour guide, as the "stingy city," occupied by tight-fisted people. This probably is true for a reason; the country is too hilly for much agriculture, and the sea-coast here has limited fishing access, so they were probably poor folks, stingy out of necessity rather than any love of money. Anyway, instead of using the usual marble facades on their stucco buildings, historically the residents of Genoa had fake, three-dimensional paintings of marble facades on their buildings. They fooled no one, but they did dress up the otherwise plain buildings a bit; kinda like the fake brick, tarpaper and asphalt siding that once was used in the States. Well, the fake painted facades became such a landmark of Genoa that they are now considered part of its "heritage." Today one could use real marble facades for less than it costs to have the fake paintings done at today's artist prices and redone every seven years, but the fake is what is now mandated by City ordinance.

April 29th -- We arrived in Monaco well before we awoke this morning. What a place! Monaco is the second smallest city-state in the World, just slightly larger than Vatican City. Monaco is only 0.78 square miles of land, carved out of a thin section of France's French Riviera coastline. Unlike Vatican City, however, Monaco boasts a huge population in comparison to its tiny land area. About 37,000 residents live here. Monaco was once a quite tiny fiefdom, if that is the correct word for a feudal manor. Someway, somehow, the Lord of the Manor convinced France to allow him to declare his land a separate, sovereign country.

Considering how he came to be Lord of the Manor, it was probably by trickery or blackmail. The fiefdom was taken by force and subterfuge early in the 1200s. The wanna-be owner gained access to the castle by disguising himself as a Friar. Once inside the castle, he slaughtered the real owners, and became the new owner. His motto: "With God's Help."

Monaco has remained in semi-continuous ownership by the descendents of this trickster since. I say semi-continuous, because various other countries have occupied this part of France at intervals since, and with France went Monaco. But each time France returned to power, Monaco came back to the same owners.

Monaco was a poor country until one of its rulers saw the chance to make it the Nevada of Europe. The Church had very strong restrictions on gambling, and there was lots of pent up money and desire to gamble. The Prince of Monaco decided to make Monaco the center of gambling for Europe. He developed the Monte Carlo Casino, and the Hotel de Paris beside it, and the rest is history! Monaco is now filthy rich, the playground of the rich and famous.

You can buy an apartment here, if you can afford it; they sell for between $25K and $90K per square meter! Many of the World's wealthiest do live here, because of the tax breaks. There is no income tax, and the VAT is 20 percent, but that applies only to what you spend, not to what you earn. A United States citizen living here would still have to pay income tax to the US for any money they earned, but this is not the case for many European countries; if you pay the VAT tax in Monaco and live there, your native country doesn't require you to pay income tax to them. Considering the tax breaks, apartment costs here are trivial to many wealthy people.

Monaco is assembling grandstands near the Cruise Terminal in preparation for the Grand Prix Formula One races carried on here annually in the streets of the City. It is a really big deal.

I chose a tour outside Monaco, because I didn't think the tiny country could interest me for a whole day. I'm glad I did. Our tour took us into the French Riviera, through the city of Nice (pronounced like niece) and to a small, ancient, medieval, walled fiefdom now called Saint Paul de Vence (not Venice). The trip and the scenery were almost beyond words. The so-called pre-Alps start here, the southernmost start of the Southern Alps, and they rise for 2,000 or 3,000 feet almost from the seashore. The towering limestone rocks, covered with lush vegetation, form a stunning backdrop for the Riviera. Many of America's wealthy actors and actresses own villas here, for somewhat less than if they were in Monaco. Only $25,000 per square meter in much of the Riviera.

The little walled village I visited has been in existence for hundreds of years, and most of the old buildings, made of limestone blocks, still exist. They have been turned into art shops, bakeries, confectionaries, boutique stores, perfumeries, and the like. It is high-rent shops, for sure, but the clientele is high rent too. I wandered the exceedingly narrow, cobblestone streets for a couple of hours, just enjoying the atmosphere. Never spent a dime, and had a great time.

The little village sits on a high rock bluff, and has 50 foot tall walls added to its perimeter, with ramparts for defense. I climbed to the top of the wall -- using steps from the inside -- and took many photos of the surrounding countryside, and the Riviera beaches in the distance. Looking the other direction, I could photograph the towering snow-covered Alps in the distance.

Getting to and from the little village was a treat. The pre-Alps have three levels of roadways, one right along the beaches, another half way up the slopes, and the third nearer the tops of the slopes. They are called Corniche One, Two, and Three. I think "corniche" means cornice in English -- little cornices carved into the mountains to allow traffic to get between villages. We took the intermediate Corniche roadway, with very winding roads, lots of bridges and tunnels, but spectacular views down into the valley's villages and beaches. On the return trip we took one of the ultra-modern toll-ways, which must have been horrendously expensive because they are mostly long tunnels and high bridges.

Once we were back to Monaco, I took a walk to the Monte Carlo Casino to see it's interior, and also visited the Opera House and Hotel de Paris. I never saw so many Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Martins anywhere else. Oh, I had learned from our tour guide that I could visit the Casino without dressing up. They require formal wear in the evenings, but not during the daytime. I walked in wearing my white halibut cap, and was promptly asked to remove it. Sheesh! I wonder what they'd say if a young guy came in wearing his baseball cap backwards?

April 30th -- We're at sea today, sailing towards Barcelona. It was a very sunny day, but the air temperature is only 54 degrees. The ship has closed the moveable ceiling over deck 8 and it is a cozy solarium. A very pleasant environment to relax and watch the waves pass by. May 1st -- The tour today took us to an overlook of Barcelona, to the National Art Gallery, to the Cathedral de Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter, and the Temple De la Sagrada Familia. It was a great tour of a great city. Barcelona is beautiful, and its residents are very proud of its architecture. Barcelona has the most cruise ship visits of any European Port. I loved what I saw. For the most part I have been much more impressed with Spain's people, cities, architecture, countryside and roads than I had expected.

The only negative, and for me it is a major one, is that the Barcelona city fathers have not seen fit to provide public toilets for the many street people, and the faint odor of human urine pervades the city streets. The merchants wash down the sidewalks each morning, but to little avail. For this single reason alone, I would not return here.

The Cathedral De Barcelona is a very old Roman Catholic Cathedral, constructed over a period of over 100 years, with strong Gothic style. It is not decorated with the rich marble of the Basilica in the Vatican, nor the ceramic tiles of many others. It is simple stone, carved in Gothic style, but the Gothic style is stunning in its effect. This is one of the cathedrals that awes me the most, of the 50 plus I have seen. I would not have chosen to stop here, but I'm glad we did.

Barcelona has an interesting architectural project going on, called the Temple De la Sagrada Familia. It is a new Roman Catholic cathedral, under construction since the 1970s, and originally planned to take 200 years to finish. No monies are coming to its construction from the Church nor from the City. It is entirely funded by the Sagrada Family and public donations. It is being constructed with modern technology -- reinforced concrete -- covered with a façade of Gothic design, and with very strong Gothic/Disneyland/Fantasyland motif. It was unlike anything I have ever seen anywhere other than Disneyland; but I don't mean that with disrespect. If the Sagrada family wants to build a cathedral looking like a Cracker Jack box, more power to them. Their design is unusual, but it will be unique, and exceedingly striking when finished. It is already. The cathedral is operational; I believe since 1997. We didn't have time to see the interior. Wish I could have. The economic downturn slowed construction, but it has picked up remarkably under the oversight of a new contractor, who claims it won't take 200 years, and projects completion by 2026. Who knows, we might still be alive when it is finished.

May 2nd -- We arrived in Alicante, Spain this morning. My feet were so sore from tramping miles in Barcelona we elected to stay on shipboard and just admire the city from the harbor. It is a pretty little city, but nothing remarkable, judging by the tour offerings. I spent the day learning more about Spain in general.

If I ever learned in my grade-school geography lessons that the Moors had conquered much of Southern Spain, I have utterly forgotten it. What's more, I was also remarkably ignorant of the modern history of Spain. I knew they were a world power that cowed England and France for a time, and I knew they'd fallen into decline, but I didn't know why. I didn't realize they sat out World War I and World War II. I knew of their Civil War, and Franco's victory and subsequent dictatorship. But I didn't know he'd declared neutrality in WW II despite his philosophical alignment with the Axis. I knew that Spain became a Constitutional Monarchy (1978) after the death of Franco (1975), but I didn't know how unique the restructuring of Spain's governance has become.

In effect, Spain divided itself into what they call "Autonomous Communities," 17 in all. In America, we'd call them States, except that our States are based on land boundaries without regard to common historical, cultural, and economical traits. Spain specifically made the boundaries of theirs based on these considerations. Their Constitution says that the Autonomous Communities are to run their own affairs for the most part, but that they are forever and irrevocably indivisible from Spain. Governance is principally pushed down to the lowest level at which it can be effective, which does not preclude some governance being at the National level.

They specifically called the formation of these Communities the devolution process -- presumably meaning devolution of centralized power to greater local autonomy. I especially like the fact that their constitution specifically uses the words that declare these "states" forever and irrevocably indivisible from Spain. In any united states, whether ours or theirs, these words are critical. We thought that our Civil War settled this issue, but it is raising its ugly head again in America in our time. Let us hope that thinking people will so resoundingly reject this error that its perpetrators will decrease in popularity.

In my mind, our new Pope Francis stated the problem and its solution as elegantly as anyone I have ever heard, and he did it in one paragraph (He is one very smart man.) To paraphrase him, since I don't have the exact quote with me:

"Push governance to the lowest level at which it can be effectively accomplished. But this principle is not without oversight; it doesn’t mean that the National government can let a local or state government fail to perform. If the rights of the people are being violated by a lower level government, then give them the chance to reform, and if they won't, then take that governance away from them and place it at the next higher level where it will be effectively performed. Anything less is a failure in governance."

I immediately translated this to our situation in America today: There can be no States' Rights claim when States are not executing their governance according to the Constitution. If they are, however, then their claim is utterly valid. It follows, of course, that the interpretation of the Constitution lies with the courts, not with elected officials. (I am not claiming that this system, as outlined, is without its inherent problems. It is, however, the best way to think about the issue of States Rights.)

May 3rd -- We arrived in Almeria (pronounced Al-Maria), Spain this morning. Almeria is a port city in Andalusia, founded in 955 AD by the Moorish ruler of the region, as his principle harbor to protect his holdings in Southern Spain. For some contrary reason the city's beginning is set at 1013 AD, and they celebrated their millennium anniversary in 2013. I never learned the reason for the 58 year discrepancy.

Almeria has a different climate than the rest of Spain's "Mediterranean climate," being much drier. Spain is far more mountainous than I'd imagined, and almost certainly the city lies in a huge rain shadow. Its hot climate is categorized as "subtropical arid climate." For millennia it has been a poor part of Spain, without adequate water for agriculture. But not anymore.

During Franco's dictatorship, he pushed his agencies to find a way to improve the economics of this part of Spain. One of his government's officials reasoned that if the Romans held garrisons here, they must have found water. He consulted hydrologists, and they decided to explore for groundwater, because the high mountains of the Sierra Nevadas (those of Spain, not California) most likely had great quantities of groundwater that flowed beneath the desert here. They drilled, and found abundant groundwater.

The result has been stupendous. This region is now one of the richest of Spain. They don't do wasteful agriculture here, because water is still expensive and precious. They have developed greenhouse agriculture on a scale unheard of anywhere else. There are thousands of acres of greenhouses, and a 10 month growing season.

I fell in love with this area. So did Sergio Leone. Here, in the surrounding desert of Tabernas, he found the arid climate he desired for shooting his so called "Spaghetti Westerns." In the 1950s he made Clint Eastwood famous here. Many other American actors came to Almeria to act in spaghetti westerns, including John Wayne, Claudia Cardinelle, Henry Fonda, Burt Reynolds, Telly Savalas, and Chuck Connors. Non-western films done here include Lawrence of Arabia, and The Wind and the Lion. When the spaghetti westerns lost their popularity, the three Western-style towns used in the outdoor movie sets were simply abandoned, and they have been taken over by locals as tourist attractions. We drove by one on our tour today.

Our tour today was a long one -- 9 hours in all. We took a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to the Alhambra Castle in the city of Granada (not Grenada), in Andalusia. To get there we had to pass over the 4,485 ft. mountain pass at El Mora, so we went through several climate zones, starting with Almeria's arid desert, climbing into brushy desert not unlike much of Arizona, then into dense forest of scrub oak, which they call "Rock Oak" here. Finally, we were into dense pine forest near the summit. It is spectacular country, all of it. In the distance we could see the snow capped Sierra Nevadas, and the weather was clear and perfect. This part of Spain is truly special. We passed through miles and miles of olive orchards carved out of steep mountain slopes. We saw olive trees so old they were three foot through at their bases. In many respects the 5 hours in the bus were the best part of the trip. I love seeing the farmland, desert and forest scenery more than seeing the cities.

The city of Granada is small and picturesque. Not much more need be said about it, other than the important fact that The Alhambra Castle is here. That is what we came to see. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It started as a small Muslim fortification in 889 AD, was abandoned, then renovated, rebuilt, and a palace added in the 11th century, and finally was converted into a royal palace in 1333. It was maintained by the Muslim rulers until 1492, the year Columbus discovered America, and the same year in which the Muslims were finally driven out of Spain by the Catholics.

In 1527, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, built his "vacation" palace within the walls of Alhambra. After he built it, his wife died, and he never revisited it. Alhambra fell into disuse. It was scavenged by locals and lived in by homeless for decades. In the surrounding areas, the Catholics converted many of the Muslim mosques into churches, and destroyed others, but they simply ignored Alhambra, because it was a private palace, not a mosque. Alhambra was rediscovered by European scholars in the 1800s. Restoration efforts began almost immediately, and have continued to this day.

My pictures of Alhambra are pretty good for getting a general idea of the outside architecture, but wholly inadequate to show the intricate detail of the interiors. Wikipedia has an excellent write-up on Alhambra and includes far better pictures than mine. If interested, I recommend you look at that write-up.

My favorite part of the visit to Alhambra was when we went into the connected gardens, called the Palacio de Generalife. Don't read that name literally. It has nothing to do with a company called General Life. The best translation is "Garden of the Architect." If you appreciate beautiful gardens, this one would really please you. The roses, jasmine, and orange trees were all in bloom, and the sweet fragrance was amazing. Trees are trained into bows over walkways so that they form bowers of exquisite beauty. Hedges are trimmed perfectly straight, vertically, with flat tops, forming tall walls separating the garden into discrete compartments. 4,000 plants species are tastefully arranged in the gardens. We passed through these gardens in 20 minutes. A proper appreciation of them would have required at least 3 hours.

The tour through Alhambra is extensive, and the walking is on cobblestone, with many stairways up and down, and one must never forget to look where one is walking. Our guide said we walked three miles within the Preserve. It felt much longer. My feet hurt tonight. But I'm very glad to have seen Almeria, Granada, and Alhambra. I have a much better appreciation for Spain's glorious beauty and history. I would definitely return to Almeria if opportunity presented itself.

May 4th -- We arrived in Gibraltar at about 10 AM. Today marks the end of our Mediterranean cruising, and tonight we will pass through the Straits of Gibraltar and enter the Atlantic Ocean. Hopefully the Straits won't slap shut as we pass through them.

My last sentence was a joke, but it leads into the geologic record, that the Straits which are now called the Straits of Gibraltar have not always been open. In fact they have opened and closed many times in geologic history. About six million years before present, they closed off, due to tectonic plate movement, and the Mediterranean Sea dried up. The estimates are that it takes about 1000 years for the Med to evaporate. A mere moment of time geologically.

Then, the straits opened again, and a catastrophic flooding of the Mediterranean basin occurred. This occurred multiple times between about 6 million years BP and 5.3 million years BP. The salt deposits left by the evaporation of such immense quantities of sea water are called the Messinian deposits, for the region of Messina. The amount of Messinian salts is larger than 4x10 to the 15th power (40,000,000,000,000,000) tonnes; the greatest salt deposits in the World.

The Straits of Gibraltar have not closed in the past 5.3 million years, but geologists know that they will do so again. It won't happen tonight, and probably not in the next million years, but it will happen again if the Earth continues to geologically evolve as it has in the past.

The rock of Gibraltar is a lot more impressive in the insurance ads. It is a bit of a yawner when you see it up close and personal. We didn't bother to take the tram to the top, nor did we see the monkeys.

My lack of enthusiasm for the rock should not be taken as a measure of the importance of the Straits of Gibraltar. Militarily and economically, the Straits are extremely important.

-- Marvin O. Fretwell, 5/4/2014

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