ABOARD THE STAR FLYER — Once underway from Malaga, a quick overnight run to Tangier, Morocco set the stage for our first shore call. On Sunday, October 19, most passengers joined the ship’s “Secrets of Tangier” excursion – a three-hour mostly walking tour through the city’s ancient medina – an intriguing labyrinth of narrow streets and bazaars. Highlight of the guided tour was a stop at an elaborately decorated tearoom for some refreshing mint tea and local pastries. There was lively entertainment at hand, presented by a colorfully costumed trio of Moroccan musicians playing traditional stringed instruments and drums.
The next day, Monday, October 20, found us in Cadiz, Spain, with the option of joining either a day-long coach tour to Andalusia’s capital city, Seville, or a shorter five-hour visit to Jerez – famous as the home and source of sherry and the noble and graceful Andalusian horse. The latter excursion was my choice, and a good one it was.
Our tour began with a visit to one of the region’s major sherry producers, Williams & Humbert, home to what is claimed to be the world’s largest wine cellar. Actually it’s not a cellar at all, as sherry is aged above ground in oak casks, stacked here in endless rows in a mammoth dimly lit building. Our W&H guide explained the intricate and age-old process of blending sherry – made from palomino grapes grown in the surrounding region’s chalky soil – and then we were led to the tasting room to sample a variety of W&H’s Dry Sack sherry blends.
Next came a visit to the prestigious Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art on the grounds of Recreo de las Cadenas, a splendid 19th century Baroque palace designed by Charles Garnier, architect of the Paris Opera House and the Casino Montecarlo.
The school trains both riders and purebred Cartujana horses – a cross between the native Andalusian workhorse and the Arabian – in advanced dressage and jumping techniques that are demonstrated in a spectacular show, “The Dancing Horses of Andalusia,” staged each Thursday. While we missed seeing the show, we did get to watch horses and riders being schooled, visit the stables and tack room, and tour the school’s equestrian museum and botanical gardens. All of it was most impressive.
We returned to Cadiz with plenty of time to stroll about the city – a delightful experience on a warm, sunny afternoon. Founded by Phoenician traders in 1100 BC, Cadiz is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the western world. Its zenith came in the 18th century when it monopolized New World trade to become the wealthiest port in Europe. Many of its buildings, including its majestic Cathedral, were built with wealth generated by gold and silver from the New World.
Tuesday and Wednesday, October 21-22, were sea days, leading to a scheduled call at Funchal, Madeira on Thursday. Plans went askew, however, when we had to change course to deliver an injured crewman to Puerto Mao, Portugal – losing a day and missing out on our visit to Madeira. This was quite disappointing to most of us, especially since the crewman, who it turns out wasn’t seriously injured, could have been taken to nearby Casablanca, Morocco for treatment – which would have allowed us to make Madeira the next day. Fact is, passengers don’t make such decisions, so there was nothing to do but let it pass – and look forward to our next call — at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, on Saturday, October 25.