The Gibraltar Apes Got Lazy…

A Short Story

Not paying much attention.

My first encounter with the apes of Gibraltar was in the mid 1960’s when our ship made a liberty call (Navy term for a non-working visit) at the port. Several of us joined a tour of The Rock and while out at an overlook we were visited by a family of apes. Suddenly they started running around and several grabbed things from us. I lost my hat and a woman with the group lost her camera and in a second the apes ran off. At the time I joked that the apes were trained by someone that gave them food in exchange for their haul. At that time nobody running the tours seemed to advertise seeing the apes.

The Apes Den

The population of apes in Gibraltar are actually Barbary Macaques and they are monkeys not apes. They are the only wild population of monkeys in Europe. Presently the population on Gibraltar numbers about 300 in five families.

Caverns inside the Rock of Gibraltar

Jumping forward fifty years, my wife and I visited Gibraltar just recently. We took a tour of “The Rock” and our guide seemed focused on finding a family of monkeys for us. He referred to them simply as monos (Spanish for monkey) and we located a troop at an overlook next to Prince Ferdinand’s Battery which the locals now call The Apes Den. There were more than a dozen monkeys walking around the area and they seemed to have little interest in us tourists. Actually they seemed almost lethargic and perhaps a bit over-weight but I found that preferable to my last encounter.

We were told that years ago it was common for a troop to make it into town on occasion and cause all sorts of mayhem but that it rarely happens any more. Perhaps they are victims of the good life just like us…

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Surprise Gem of the Italian Adriatic Coast

Ravenna in the northern Italian province of Emilia Romagna is a bit off the usual tourist trail. Located only two and a half hours from Venice by train with frequent service starting at €12 it is well worth a side trip. This city is a treasure trove of art and history with its basilica containing an extensive collection of mosaics. The city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 AD until its collapse in 476. Today, Ravenna is home to eight world heritage sites, is known for its great food and is located on good beaches on the Adriatic coast that include world class resorts.

Old city gate

Eight Unesco World Heritage Sites

  1. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia meant to be the resting place of Galla Placidia, the sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius who had transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD.
  2. The Neonian Baptistery along with the
  3. Arian Baptistery with both including plain octagonal shaped brick exteriors with lavish interiors.
  4. The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo with its 26 mosaic scenes from the New Testament, the oldest in the world.
  5. The , the only chapel of the early Christian era that is still fully preserved.
  6. The Mausoleum of Theodoric built in 520 AD by Theodoric the Great, King and unifier of the Ostrogoths.

    flying buttress on the Basilica of San Vitale
  7. The Basilica of San Vitale. One of the most important churches of the early church.
  8. The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare, located in the countryside five miles outside Ravenna.
Dante’s Tomb

The city is also the site of the Tomb of Dante Alighieri

The author of The Divine Comedy who was exiled from his native Florence to Ravenna in 1318, where he completed Paradise, the final section of his famous three part work. Dante is buried in the graveyard beside the San Francesco Basilica.

The “Basilica of San Vitale” church in Ravenna, is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a “basilica”, the title bestowed on church buildings of exceptional historic and ecclesiastical importance, although it is not an architectural basilica form.

The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547.

The church has an octagonal plan. The building combines Roman elements: the dome, shape of doorways, and stepped towers; with Byzantine elements: polygonal apse, capitals, narrow bricks, and one of the earliest examples of the flying buttress. The church is most famous for its collection of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside of Constantinople. The church is of extreme importance in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. Furthermore, it is thought to reflect the design of the Byzantine Imperial Palace Audience Chamber, of which nothing at all survives. The Church also inspired the design of the church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, and also was the model used by the Emperor Charlemagne for his Palatine Chapel in Aachen in 805, and centuries later theSan Vitale dome was the inspiration for Filippo Brunelleschi in the design for the dome of the Duomo of Florence.

Besides the history and good food the city is also a very easy place for walking with a number of wide pedestrian malls lined with good shops.

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Outside the city towards the Adriatic beaches we passed a number of canals dotted with interesting fishing huts with huge and elaborate fishing net contraptions that didn’t seem a very sporting way of fishing. Even at the beach there was a long pier also with a number of these fishing huts and nets. I’ve never found a description or explanation of how these places worked?

Minerva’s Pencil Case has a great  post HERE with some breathtaking interior photography.

Cruising and the Panama Canal

Lock up to Gatún Lake

In 1880 the French tackled one of the biggest engineering projects ever. The intent was to dig a canal from the Caribbean across Panama to the Pacific Ocean. They were defeated by a mosquito and a single celled organism that causes malaria.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States took on the responsibility of getting done a long-term United States goal, completing the trans-isthmian canal. In order to get the U.S. authority a number of treaties were attempted and finally the U.S. backed a revolutionary movement to gain Panama independence from Columbia.

The new canal projects success was partly the result of healthcare advances made during the construction, led by William Gorgas, an expert in

Gatún Lake

controlling tropical diseases including yellow fever and malaria. Gorgas was one of the first to recognize the role of mosquitoes in the spread of these diseases, and by focusing on controlling the mosquitoes greatly improved worker safety.

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The American engineers abandoned the French plan of a sea level cut and went to a design using locks to lift ships up to the level of Gatún Lake and back down again. One of the biggest projects was the Culebra Cut through the roughest terrain on the route and remains one of the largest earth –moving projects ever.

Later in the construction it was discovered there would not be enough water reserves to operate the locks. Several dams were built with one being a dam at Pedro Miguel which encloses the south end of the Culebra Cut (actually an arm of Gatún Lake). The Gatun Dam is the main dam blocking the original course of the Chagres River, and created Gatún Lake. Additionally two dams were built at Miraflores that impound Miraflores Lake.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

The best way to visit the canal is on a cruise ship. Generally these cruises go back and forth from the American coasts with Miami and Ft. Lauderdale being at one end and San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco at the other. They usually include a number of stops that can include Grand Cayman, Cartagena, Columbia, Colon, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico but the star of the trip is the Panama Canal.

Mules prepare to receive a tanker

We have taken a couple of cruises that transit the canal and are always enthralled by the trip thru the locks and lakes of this remarkable place. Ships are pushed and pulled by tugs and canal engines called “mules” into locks with only inches of clearance. Water roars out of exhaust ports and massive ships rise and drop effortlessly within the locks.

A new electric Mule

Cruising across Lake Gatún is like a journey thru a primitive and beautiful rain forest with numerous islets as dozens of ships glide along near us. Transiting the Culebra Cut with its walls towering above leaves us overwhelmed by the shear tonnage of dirt that had to be hauled away.

Many cruises stop at Cristobal Pier near Colon where locals offer crafts and wares for sale with usually Kuna Indians from the San Blas Islands among the merchants. Many of the cruise ships require a quick paint touch-up at the exit dock to cover up numerous rubs and scrapes from the passage..

Up until recently the canal could only accommodate ships designated Panamax. These original locks are 1,050 ft (320.04 m) in length, 110 ft (33.53 m) in width, and 41.2 ft (12.56 m) in depth. These limits have influenced the ship building industry to build Panamax vessels for the past hundred plus years

On September 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty promising to give control of the canal to the Panamanians in the year 2000. After that the Panama Canal Company began an expansion project. The expansion project started construction in 2007 and opened for commercial operation on 26 June 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger Post-Panamax and New Panamax ships, which have a greater cargo capacity than the original locks could accommodate. Unfortunately many of the cruise industries new mega-ships still cannot cruise the canal mainly because they are too tall to cruise under the bridge at the Pacific end of the canal.

All-in-all this is a fascinating journey and one of the three or four  best itineraries we’ve taken. The ports-of-call are an opportunity to visit a number of Central American countries and get an introduction to this interesting region.

Cell Phone Roaming On Cruise Ships

An Update

We try very hard to keep control of our cellular voice, data and text costs along with wifi access costs while traveling. One specific area where costs can easily spin out of control is cellular roaming while on a cruise.

Over the past few years AT&T has become a virtual cell service monopoly on cruise ships thru their subsidiary, Wireless Maritime Services, also known as Cellular At Sea. Until a couple of years ago most cell providers offered a discount travel package if you were going on a cruise. No more, and one has to question what is going on. At this writing the only provider still offering a discount package while cruising is AT&T. Wonder why? Without a cruise option most cell providers are now billing about $2.50 per minute when you use Cellular At Sea.

As mentioned in another post, I have an international phone with a sim card from One Sim Card. Our usual plan is to generally not use cell voice service while at sea and only use One Sim Card when we are in a port and have access to land based cellular service. That raises the question regarding how and when the cruise ships shut down their Cellular At Sea service in favor of land based service and when do the switch back on?

This January we took a Caribbean trip visiting a few islands. At the end of island hopping we booked our return to the mainlandon Celebrity Summit that was sailing from San Juan to Ft. Lauderdale. While in Puerto Rico, St. Croix and St. Thomas we used our Verizon phones and when on other islands we used the One Sim Card service. On the cruise back to the U.S. our last stop was supposed to be Nassau, Bahamas and that is where things went wrong.

On the Nassau morning, strong winds kept the ship from getting into port so we spent some time just sitting off shore. I needed to make some calls and I was getting five bars on service from Bahamas Telecommunications Company. A few minutes later while still near Nassau my phone switched from BTC to WMS or Wireless Maritime Services which is another name for AT&T’s Cellular At Sea without my noticing it. One ten minute call cost us $25 instead of the $2.50 that would have been billed thru One Sim Card.

After figuring out what happened I contacted Celebrity and asked about their policy regarding switching on cellular service. The person I spoke with was very helpful and spent a fair amount of time researching their policy. What she concluded was, that despite a stated policy regarding American ports, there doesn’t seem to be a specific set of rules. That may be because the ships have to deal with a lot of jurisdictions and countries. In this case I think they were too quick to switch service on.

My advice at this point is to keep an eye on your phone as to what service you are using while on a cruise shipand if any of the following show up – get off the phone.

  • Cellular At Sea
  • WMS
  • WTN
  • 901-18
  •  NOR-18

These are all network names associated with Cellular At Sea.

 

 

Cheeseburgers in Paradise

Sometime you just want a good burger. We’ve seen fast food chains in places all around the world including Ho Chi Minh City (McDonalds and Carl’s Jr) Bergen, Norway (McDonalds and Burger King) Barcelona (McDonalds), Copenhagen (McDonalds), Thailand (Burger King and McDonalds).

Thailand

 

While having taken advantage of fast food while traveling we prefer non-chain restaurants and we’ve satisfied our craving for a good old American cheeseburger in a number of locations as well. We’ve had burgers from Barbados (Bubba’s, pretty good), to Barcelona (so, so), to Honolulu (a monster concoction at Teddy’s) to St. Croix (at Cheeseburgers, simply a real good burger).

East end St. Croix with Buck Island in the distance

Even the concept of McDonalds style fast food is no longer exclusive to America as more and more chains spring up. Jollibee  features burgers and

Manila

chicken and started over forty years ago in Manila. It has spread over Asia and is now well establish in the United States. Quickly growing is SuperMac’s in Ireland that features only Irish beef and serves a menu of french fries, including curry as well as covered in slaw and taco filling.

 

St. Croix

We first visited Cheeseburger In America’s Paradise  in St. Croix after hurricane Hugo in 1990 and the place hasn’t changed at all since. It’s an outdoor place under tents out on the eastern north shore on East End Road. Back then the radio played country western in honor of the Texan linemen that were rebuilding the island and had live music at times in the evening. It was becoming the place for happy hour for East Enders and probably will again as the island recovers. It offers a simple menu that mostly features really good open-flame cooked hamburgers and beer. On this visit it really did take us back as the radio was playing a C&W station.

The bottom line is if you are visiting St. Croix and want a reasonably priced, really good burger, drive on out to Cheeseburger In America’s Paradise.

 

 

 

 

The Old Port City of Kotor, Montenegro

Sailing up the Bay of Kotor

The old port of Kotor is ringed by steep limestone mountains and surrounded by fortifications built from the  Roman era to the Venetian period. It is located on the Bay of Kotor deep inland from the Adriatic Sea. The bay is a ria, which is a filled river canyon. Together with picturesque towns, the nearly shear limestone cliffs of the mountains of Orjen and Lovćen, Kotor offers an impressive landscape. The current population of Kotor is under 15,000.

 

In recent years Kotor has seen an explosion in tourists, with a majority coming by cruise ship. The cruising industry has greatly expanded in the Mediterranean recently requiring an expanded offering of port destinations. Kotor is the new beneficiary offering the mild environment of the Gulf of Kotor, the spectacular natural scenery and the history of the old town.

Lady of Remedy church

The oldest known building in Montenegro is an early Christian basilica, dating from the 6th century, based on archaeological evidence, it was found under the Church of Our Lady of Remedy.

Kotor is part of the World Heritage Site named the Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor. The fortified city of Kotor was also included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list as part of “the Venetian Works of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries”.

Roman Era

The town was first mentioned in Roman writings around 168 BC, and was known as Acruvium, (Ancient Greek: Ἀσκρήβιον) and was part of the Roman province of Dalmatia.

Cathedral of Saint Tryphon

Middle Ages

Our Lady of the Rocks

The town has been fortified since the Middle Ages, when Emperor Justinian erected a fortress above Ascrivium in 535, after expelling the Ostrogoths. Ascrivium was later sacked by the Saracens in 840. It was fortified with walls and castle near the peak of Saint Ivan by Constantine VII in 10th century. It was one of the more influential Dalmatian city-states throughout the early Middle Ages.The city was part of Byzantine Dalmatia in that period, and the modern name of Kotor probably originated from its Byzantine name.

Located out in the Bay of Kotor, Our Lady of the Rocks sits on a manmade islet. According to legend, the islet was made over the centuries by local Croatian seamen who kept an ancient oath after finding the icon of Madonna and Child on the rock in the sea on July 22, 1452. Upon returning from each successful voyage, they laid a rock in the Bay. Over time, the islet gradually emerged from the sea.

Road winds up St. John mtn.

Another church sitting far above the old town is the Lady of Remedy, along with the Byzantine Fort St. Ivan and the Chapel of St. John. The Lady of Remedy is a Roman Catholic church belonging to the Catholic Diocese of Kotor and dates from 1518. The church is perched on the steep slope of the St. John Mountain with a commanding view of the Old Town below.

If you are in good shape you should consider taking the hike up the mountain over the stairs and trail cut into the rock of the mountain. The road (walking path) ascends from behind the Church of St. Mary Collegiate in the back of the old town.

 

Above -The Northern approach to the Old City protected by a moat, wall and the Kampana Tower.

Wines of Montenegro

In Montenegro, grapes were grown over two thousands years ago and later the Romans brought wine making knowhow to the region. With a perfect climate for vineyards, wine making has flourished in the region with two varietals of special note– dark “Vranac” and bright “Krsta?”. These wines carry the names of these grapes.

 

 

 

 

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Game of Thrones – Dubrovnik, Croatia

The Old City of Dubrovnik is where Game of Thrones was filmed and that has greatly added to the appeal of this already popular tourist destination. A short walk thru this town quickly shows why it was selected as a backdrop for this popular series. Scenes from the show take in the Pile and Ploče gates, St. Dominika street, the high city walls along with the Bokar fortress and the Minčeta tower.

The sea and surrounding hills are ruggedly beautiful and the Old Cities massive defensive walls and towers add a feeling of being transported back in time centuries.

As recently as the early 1990’s, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army for seven months and suffered from repeated artillery shellings along with constant sniper fire. After the new peace, with restoration work in the early 2000s, Dubrovnik has emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the Adriatic Sea.

The Old Town of Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th Century by refugees from Epidaurus in Greece and is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historic sites. As soon as you cross over the drawbridge and enter the Pile Gate you will find yourself entering an ancient city that is brimming with amazing architecture and surrounded by the Adriatic on one side and the interior city walls on the other.

Visitors can take a walk along the city walls that surrounds the Old City. The walk takes a couple of hours and offers breathtaking views of the Coast and views down on the city. Lovrijenac Fortress is one of the sights that can be seen from the wall, it is an impressive structure built on an outcropping rock. It is located just outside the Western wall of the Old Town and is often featured in Game of Thrones.

While the Game Of Thrones is fiction there is a remarkable amount of real history within its walls.

Bokar fortress

Republic of Ragusa

After the fall of the Gothic Kingdom, the city was incorporated into the Byzantine Empire. Because of that even in the medieval period, Dubrovnik still had a large Roman population. After the Crusades, Dubrovnik came under the control of Venice, along with the remaining Dalmatian cities. After the Peace Treaty of Zadar in in 1358, Dubrovnik achieved relative independence as a protectorate of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Minčeta tower
Jewish fountain

Between the 14th century and 1808, Dubrovnik ruled itself as a free state, although it paid an annual tribute to the Ottoman sultan. The Republic reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it rivaled the Republic of Venice and other maritime republics.