Monday, September 5th:
On Monday we arrived In Gijon, Spain. This city has the largest bulk materials port in Spain. We docked near a freighter that was either loading or unloading loose coal. The pile on the concrete pier was enormous! One hillside featured the round tanks used to store natural gas while the tanks on the left hand side were oil tanks.
Azamara provided shuttle busses into the city of Gijon. It is known for its maritime and naval heritage. Oh, they make cider too. We were required to wear masks on the shuttle bus. Azamara conforms to local Covid requirements. Masks were handed out before you boarded the bus.
We were dropped off near a beautiful marina filled with pleasure boats. The weather was perfect. There was a hop on, hop off tour bus parked adjacent to us, so what we would do next was pretty simple to figure out. Riding around the city ran about 14€ once you factored in the senior discount. The driver did not take cash, only cards and once again, masks were required on the bus. We rode one circuit, listened to the English translation and hopped off where we started.
I had some articles I needed to file, so I brought my laptop, hoping to find a cafe with a reliable internet connection. There was a great one nearby. Connecting to the internet was a challenge, but our server helped. This was worth a generous tip.
Once my laptop computer was stowed away, we commenced people watching from the cafe. Now for the first surprise. “Do you serve food?” No, they only serve drinks. Yes, you can get a coffee, beer, wine or mixed drink in the AM, but must wait until about 1:30 PM to order lunch.
People stroll in Gijon. Yes, this might be a workday, but everyone appears to take their dog out for a walk about the same time. The number of dogs we saw was amazing! They are all obedient and well behaved. Our theory is they are all given Valium before they leave the house. We were looking for the “rent a dog” shop but there was none.
We saw a sculpture that appeared to be a Christmas tree. Close, but not correct. This huge sculpture was made of empty apple cider bottles from different manufacturers. This vantage point put us within sight of a square leading to another square. These are lined with sidewalk cafes. The cafes extend seating into the square. Chairs and tables in different colors tell you where you are.
It was before 1:30; but we stopped for lunch. Lunch was two bottles of local cider accompanied by a dish of tasty, pitted green olives. Seriously. We people watched. More people, more dogs.
We headed to the shuttle bus which resumed service about 1:30. Shortly afterwards, we were back on board. Even reboarding has surprises. You are offered a vodka spiked lemonade. They had different fruits too.
We had a proper lunch onboard in the Windows Cafe near the pool.
We relaxed a little in the afternoon until about 4:00 when afternoon tea and savories (tapas) were delivered to our cabin. This is available every day, just complete the card and put it outside your door before 11:00 AM.
The ship left the dock about 5:00 PM. We sat on our forward facing balcony as the crew pulled in the huge blue mooring ropes. We sat outside for about an hour.
Once we left the harbor we started to encounter choppy seas. Our cabin was as far forward as you can get. We were right under the command bridge. My stomach was not cooperating.
We dressed for our 7:00 PM dinner, joining the nice couple from Northern Ireland. We had dinner in the main dining room and exchanged those “What did you do today?” stories with our friends. Dinner was good, but my stomach was telling me heading back to the cabin was a good idea. Jane stayed with our friends, threatening to buy out the jewelry shop. I was in bed upon her return.
The night was somewhere between level 3 and level 6 on the 12 point Beofort scale. This isn’t considered rough, but I guess I misplaced my sea legs on this voyage. (I was fine the next morning.)
Tuesday, September 6th:
On Tuesday we docked for the day in La Corona, Spain. On this occasion the ship docked within walking distance of town. The weather cooperated, so it was a good day for walking around. The ship docked alongside the P&O ship Britannia, which looked huge. We were bussed to the Customs building adjacent to the bigger ship. No Customs formalities, the big ship just got the better parking space.
I am going to skip ahead for a moment.
You might think one port blends into another and they all look alike. I wonder if other people think the same things. When we returned from town that afternoon, a nice fellow speaking perfect English asked if we were from the Azamara cruise. We said yes and he wanted to ask us a few questions as part of a survey. He asked where we sailed from, what was the first Spanish port we visited and what were the other Spanish ports. Thankfully, we gave all the right answers, so the nice man didn’t think we felt one port was just like another.
Back to our activities. We left the port area with a curving promenade of elegant buildings in the near distance. Lots of sidewalk cafes. We headed down a street behind them and found a huge square lined with glassed in cafes. It was still early, so lunch was out of the question. 1:30 PM starts the lunch “hour” in Spain.
Surveying the side streets, it appears La Corona is built on a hillside. Put another way, getting anywhere seemed to involve walking up flights of stone steps. I found a street on level ground off to the left and we headed in that direction.
This led to another smaller square. We found a sidewalk cafe with seating extending into the square, grabbed a table and ordered coffees. This led to more people watching as once again, every dog in town took their master or mistress for a walk. I also ordered a glass of local white wine. This came with peanuts. Total cost for everything was about $6.00. You won’t find that at home.
We left the square and discovered a pedestrian only zone lined with smart shops. Lots of jewelry stores, shoe shops and clothing stores. There was even a Flying Tiger store, a Copenhagen chain that carries fun items at low prices.
The shopping street led to the boulevard running along the waterfront, so we walked to the left until we found the gate heading back to the pier. It was on this return journey we encountered the survey taker.
The Azamara Quest serves food almost constantly. The Windows Cafe on the pool deck serves until 2:30 yet the poolside area serves hamburgers until 5:00 PM. We had snuck in under the 2:30 wire, so we enjoyed the buffet while we sat on the stern outdoor dining deck.
We are eating constantly. We must be back in the cabin by 4:00 for the delivery of afternoon tea and savories. You place your order in the morning, but must be present when food arrives.
At 5:00 the ship pulled away from the dock. From our balcony we watched how the crew hauls and stores these giant blue mooring ropes. We sat out on our balcony as we left the harbor. The seas got a little unsettled as we reached open water.
At about 7:00 we headed down to dinner in the Discovery restaurant. The featured theme was Mexican, but they also had a Spanish dessert unique to the port prepared on the spot by some of the ship’s officers.
We skipped the shows and headed back to our cabin. It was another good day.
Wednesday, September 7th:
Today we visited Porto. But first, we needed a good breakfast. This time we tried the Discoveries Dining Room. They have an excellent version of eggs Benedict, done with asparagus. I chose that over steak and eggs. Then it was time to head into Porto and taste port.
The ship doesn’t actually dock in the city of Porto, it docks in Leixões on the Atlantic coast. The ship provides a day in Porto on your own shore excursions, where they bus you in and out. We decided to do it on our own.
This port has a magnificent looking cruise terminal. It’s almost empty because we are the only ship here at the moment. There is a tourism desk. I asked about taking the train into Porto. This involves “walk a bit, get the subway, take it to the main train station and catch the train to Porto. We decided to take a taxi instead.
We shared a taxi with two other passengers. They were dropped in the center of Porto near the first landmark they wanted to see. Now we needed to get to the tasting room for Quinta do Noval, where we had an 11:30 AM appointment.
The taxi drivers English wasn’t perfect, but he was very helpful and could make himself understood. The port lodges aren’t actually in Porto. They are in the city across the river. Then he explained you cannot get a taxi into the pedestrian zone.
He got us to within about two blocks, after a scenic ride along cobblestone streets lined with great looking period buildings. Although the cobblestone street running along the bank of the Douro River does take traffic, it was jammed with tour busses and delivery vehicles.
Quinta do Noval
Different port houses traditionally operated from lodges. This street is lined with tasting rooms setup as restaurants with indoor and outdoor seating. Quinta do Noval was established about 1715. We had a private tasting thanks to a friend of a friend. It was excellent. We bought a polo shirt at the pretty reasonable rate of 20€ as a souvenir.
Back aboard the ship
The nice folks at the tasting room were actually able to call a taxi which got us back to the port. We returned, going through the usual security. The Azamara staff has a table setup on the dock with fresh fruit and interesting blended juice beverages. Amazingly, they had a bowl of fresh figs.
We had a late lunch at the Windows Cafe, then stretched out on the pool deck. We needed to watch the time because we needed to get back to our cabin for the 4:00 PM delivery of afternoon tea and savories.
We will leave the ship a day early because our flight from Lisbon is scheduled to depart at 7:20 AM on Friday morning. We have assumed it would be difficult to leave the ship, about 4:00 AM and get a taxi in Lisbon. Even though tipping is included, we wanted to hand some white envelopes with tips to people who have made our trip special. Put another way, we got white envelopes from the purser’s office.
At 7:00 we met our friends for a farewell dinner together. We dined in the main dining room. Once again, it was excellent. We had drinks in The Den, a cocktail bar we had yet to try. After that, we turned in.
It was another good day.
Thursday, September 8th:
Our plan has been to leave the ship, luggage in hand at 10:00 AM, take a taxi to our hotel, the Lisbon Marriott and spend the night, so we could make that 7:20:AM flight to Heathrow.
We awoke early, packed and dressed, then had breakfast in the Discoveries Restaurant. I tried the steak and eggs this time. I think the steak was a four ounce filet mignon. It was great.
We walked down the gangway, luggage in hand at 10:00 AM. Once we stepped onto the pier, the officer in charge of housekeeping and another crew member insisted on helping us with our bags. They also got us a taxi! We explained why we were leaving early. They explained Azamara would have been able to get us off the ship at 4:00 AM Friday and get us a taxi! Now we know!
We checked into our hotel, changed clothes and grabbed another taxi to take us to the train station.
Our lunch in Cascais
There is a train line running along the coast heading to Cascais. This is a beach town about 30 minutes outside Lisbon. It’s a tourist town, but it is…great.
We had a great visit 10+ years ago and wanted to recreate the experience. There was lots more development along the route, but the train platform and streets looked the same.
We didn’t find our restaurant from ten years ago, but once I visited the tourist office and explained what I was looking for, they suggested a place five minutes down the street.
Our seafood lunch started with barnacles! Who knew there were different types of barnacles? These were goose barnacles! They look like tiny crab claws with easy to access meat inside. The main course was a seafood platter. This included grilled shrimp, two types of local fish served as steaks, plus other dishes including more grilled shrimp, clams and diced tomato. We drank vinho verde, a light Portuguese wine with the meal. The entrees ran about 27€ per person. The total cost including two bottles of wine was about 103€. The place was pretty upscale and the people watching was great. We made friends at the next table.
Wrapping up the day
We staggered back to the train station, buying souvenir gifts along the way. Once in Lisbon, we found a taxi outside the train station. Cab rides are reasonable in Lisbon.
Back at the hotel we relaxed, visited the executive lounge for drinks and snacks and prepared to call it a day.
Azamara did a fine job overall.
See previous posts:
Our Itinerary-Azamara Quest, Southampton, England to Lisbon, Portugal
- Southampton, England. We fly into London a day or so early. Hopefully there will be no flight cancellations or rail strikes. We take the Underground into London.
- Marriott Kensington Hotel. It’s located about two blocks from the Gloucester Road Underground station on the Piccadilly Line, which runs from the airport. It’s a good hotel that is reasonably priced. They have a Concierge Lounge, a Marriott Bonvoy perk.
- Pont de La Tour. We plan to have dinner with friends at our favorite restaurant. It overlooks Tower Bridge, as the name implies. They have a good price fixed menu in addition to a la carte offerings.
- National Express. We will take the bus from Victoria Coach Station to Southampton on Monday morning. The fare is about $7.50.
- Bordeaux, France. We have an overnight in Bordeaux so everything doesn’t need to fit into one day. Bordeaux is a city famous for the wine of the same name. The most famous chateaus in the region are just outside the city. I am a wine snob. There are 8,500+ wine producing chateaus in Bordeaux. In my opinion, only 87 matter, the chateaus in the original classification of 1855.
- Visit chateaus. The ship has a 5 hour tour, Medoc Discovery. You visit Chateau Beychevelle and Chateau Kirwan. Yes, they are on the 1855 list! Cost is about $180pp. It will be worth every penny. At this moment it is sold out, but we will join the waiting list upon boarding the ship. We are contacting the major chateaus directly as out backup plan.
- Cite du Vin Wine Museum. It’s relatively new and supposed to be spectacular. Tickets are 21 Euro each. That’s good for a couple of hours.
- Lunch at a sidewalk café or fine restaurant. Friends in the wine trade recommend Les Noialles or Chapon Fin. We can book reservations online.
- Food to discover. Bordeaux is famous for Bordeaux wines. The cheeses are probably numerous too.
- Jean de Luz, France. We are near or close to Basque Country, but we are also close to Biarritz, the legendary resort town made famous by Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III. Queen Victoria liked the place too. It’s the sort of place the super wealthy of the 1800’s visited and Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes would visit while solving a case. The ship has a 3+ hour tour, priced at $99 but we might explore on our own if we can get there easily. St Jean de Luz seems pretty small. The population is about 14,000. There seems to be one main street running from one side of town to the other. (I am sure there are other streets.) I think I read there is a frisbee throwing contest, but not when we are there.
- Michelin highlights seven restaurants in the town. None get stars, but all are recommended. Usually they have lunch menus that are three courses and price fixed. I am sure we will find something.
- St. Jean de Luz might be small, but there is a hypermarket nearby. Carrefour usually has a great wine selection.
- Market Day. Fortunately we will be in port on market day. Visiting an outdoor market in France is always a treat.
- Apparently, the train from St. Jean de Luz to Biarritz takes ten minutes. Exploring this resort is an option.
- Food to discover. Basque cheese is local to the area. The French wine region Irouleguy is nearby.
- Bilbao, Spain. I am confident Bilbao has lots going for it, but the Guggenheim Museum is the star attraction for us. Tickets are 16 Euro for adults, 8 Euro for seniors. Age has its privileges. I am assuming finding a good place for tapas should not be difficult.
- Guggenheim Museum – If we have come this far, we must check it out.
- Trams – Bilbao is said to have the best mass transit system in Spain. I am assuming we can ride trams and get a good view of the city.
- Hop on, hop off bus. Apparently Bilbao has several competing companies.
- El Corte Ingles – Spain’s major department store chain has a location on Grand Via. (Where else would you put it?) In addition to a food hall and great wine department, the chain usually has a self-service restaurant and, depending on the location, a linen tablecloth restaurant. Rioja wines always taste better there!
- Food to discover. The Rioja wine region is nearby. It’s probably the wine of choice in Bilbao. We are still in the Basque region, on the Spanish side of the border. We will look for Basque sheep’s milk cheese.
- Gijon, Spain. Here is a city we do not know much about. It is the 15thlargest city in Spain. Maritime industries and the navy are a major part of the city’s heritage. Cimadevilla, the old fisherman’s quarter, is the oldest section of town. I assume we will head there, walk and explore.
- Gijon has seven restaurants recognized by Michelin. Auga is the one meriting a Michelin star. They seem to have a six course tasting menu priced at about 60 Euro.
- Roman settlement. The oldest part of town also has a Roman settlement, possibly the oldest in Spain. We can check that out.
- Yes, they have a branch of El Corte Ingles. Think of it as Spain’s version of Macy’s.
- Yacht club. It’s also located in the fisherman’s quarter. I wonder if they will let us in.
- Food to discover. Can it be true there are 50 cheeses in the area? Penamellera is one example. We love wine, but cider is popular in this area.
- La Coruna, Spain. This is where you find the Church, Santiago de Compostela, the destination for the pilgrims who do the walk of St. James, the Camino de Santiago. The total journey is 500 miles. Seeing the Church will be great. We will likely find another spot for tapas.
- Santiago de Compostela. There are many reasons to visit this Church. One is the giant censer, a five foot long, 180 pound incense burner swung from ropes and pulleys. It’s the largest in the world.
- Yes, our favorite Spanish retail chain has a location near the Church. It’s our backup plan for lunch.
- Michelin recognizes 16 restaurants in La Coruna. One merits a star, Arbore da Viera. It looks like the most reasonable of their tasting menus is 60 Euro.
- Food to discover. Local chesses include Arzua-Ulloa and Queso Telita. Wine should be from the Galacia region.
- Porto, Portugal. We are wine fans. We are port collectors. We will want to visit one of the historic port lodges, like Grahams. You can buy tourist passes to include the train, boat and a visit to a port lodge. Lunch will fit in there somewhere. Porto has some Michelin starred restaurants.
- Port lodge. We are wine collectors. We know a bit about port. Ideally, we want to get into the best port lodge possible and take the tour with the best tasting. We realize this will come at a cost.
- Enjoying the tourist pass. If we can tour by rising a bus and a boat, we will give it a try.
- Hop on, hop off bus. The yellow bus costs 18 Euro. That’s another touring option.
- Food to discover. Terrincho and Transmontano goat cheese are two to discover. Although the city is famous for port, the region producing Vinho Verde is nearby.
- Lisbon, Portugal. Lisbon we have visited several times previously. Our #1 activity will be taking the train to Cascais, a beach town a short ride outside the city. The last time we visited, the train reminded us of vintage NYC subway cars. On that trip, we exited the train, walked into town and asked two police officers where we could find an outdoor restaurant serving platters of cold seafood. They laughed, told us which way to walk and said we would see several! We did and had a splendid afternoon we still talk about today. It was the first and only time we have tried barnacles!