Iberia On The INSIGNIA, Part Two

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Continue with Knego aboard Oceania Cruises MV INSIGNIA on a 12-night cruise around Iberia from Barcelona to Bordeaux. This second post highlights visits to Alicante, Almeria, Gibraltar and Seville.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bleary eyed, we watched from our balcony as the INSIGNIA made her approach to Alicante in the Valencia region of Spain’s Costa del Sol. The blinding sunshine was a far cry from my prior visit aboard the then LOUIS MAJESTY, when the place was inundated with rain.

Waves Grill veggie burger.

After breakfast and an espresso in Barista’s, we photographed the mostly empty ship for the rest of the morning, then headed to the Waves Grill for a quick but delicious veggie burger and salad.

Walking Alicante.

Alicante Town Hall.

On our prior visit, we toured the fortress above the city, so we opted to take the port shuttle into town for a wander along the waterfront.

Museum of Modern Art, Alicante.

We were especially impressed with the Modern Art Museum. Not only was admission complimentary, its collection of paintings and sculptures was world class.

Alicante beach.

Those beach towels in our cabin and the Oceania tote bag came in handy that afternoon. We allowed ourselves a run and briny swim on the beach, which was rather crowded, thanks to the balmy weather.

Adios, Alicante!

Back on board, we watched from Deck 11 as INSIGNIA headed out into the wind-whipped gulf.

MV INSIGNIA Spa Terrace, facing starboard.

We took advantage of our concierge level status to enjoy some time on the Spa Deck. Despite the high winds, we were well sheltered behind the tinted glass panels overlooking the bow.

MV INSIGNIA Toscana, facing aft.

This would be our first chance to experience Toscana, the Italian specialty restaurant on aft Deck 10. Reservations are required for this included-in-the-fare venue, arguably one of the best at sea.

Toscana bread and oil.

Bread lovers should allow for some seriously indulgent calories in Toscana. All of the choices are excellent, especially when enhanced with a clove of fresh roasted garlic and a menu of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.

Stem culture in Toscana.

Wines are a bit pricey but well worth the indulgence in Toscana. The reds are served in bowl-sized Riedel stemware that enhances the nose and the sipping pleasure.

Toscana spaghetti pomodoro.

The menu in Toscana is as varied as one might expect in a fine Italian trattoria, with everything from a garden-fresh Insalata Mista to Osso Buco and then some. For me, it’s the simpler things like a perfectly prepared pasta, say a spaghetti pomodoro doused in fresh grated Reggiano Parmesan, that make the world go round.

Insignia Production Cast in “Tuxedo”.

By the time we got to the Insignia Lounge, the Insignia Production Cast was well into their “Tuxedo” show, featuring a familiar arsenal of songs from the American Songbook. Strangely, this would be the only full cast show for the duration of our cruise segment.

We wrapped it all up with a Perrier in Martini’s as the great Bobby Hamilton crooned the night away.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Almeria Cathedral.

After the usual breakfast and a macchiato-to-go from Barista’s, we joined the Almeria Highlights tour. As it turned out, the two main sights, the Cathedral (dating from 1524) and La Alcazaba fortress, were an easy walk from the ship.

Spires of Alcazaba.

La Alcazaba, built by the Moors in the 10th Century, is the largest Caliphate fortress in Europe.

Alcazaba fountain flow.

Jacaranda petals.

Within Alcazaba’s ten-foot-thick stone walls are three compounds, the first of which is now a beautiful garden traversed by a fountain drawn from a well beneath. If it rings familiar, that might be because it was used as the backdrop in numerous films, including “Conan The Barbarian” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”.

Back aboard our beautiful ship, we settled into a familiar routine of eating, working out, afternoon tea and a swim in the pool. We even attended one of the trivia quizzes, which the ship’s intense world cruise guests may have taken a bit too seriously. After the hearty Spanish buffet in the Terrace Cafe, we went to the Beyond The Strings show (those dueling violinists) and called it a night.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

St. Michael’s Caves, Gib.

Our budget was tight, so instead of joining one of the ship’s tours, we opted for a local tour to St. Michael’s Caves, the one attraction that has thus far evaded us in otherwise familiar Gibraltar. As soon as we exited the terminal, a tour guide was pitching his wares well enough to convince us to join some seven guests of the visiting P & O Cruise ship VENTURA on a van ride to all the key attractions that would cost us each a total of 40 Euros.

Colors of St. Michael’s.

After a zig-zag ride up the rock, we had time on our own to explore the brilliantly lit caverns of St. Michael’s, a series of limestone caves in Gib’s Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

Ape/ship in Gib.

Mike and the monkey.

From there, we were off to a view point at the top of the rock, where the Barbary Macaques roam at will, jumping atop vans, eating scraps of food, jostling with each other and even the occasional tourist that gets too familiar.

View from top of the rock.

From our 1,200-foot-high vantage, Gibraltar’s eastern edge seemed quite unforgiving.

Cannon in the cave.

Our next and last stop was at the northern end of the Rock, where the Great Siege Tunnels awaited. These were carved out of the rock to hide artillery and cannons for protection from would-be French and Spanish invaders.

VENTURA versus INSIGNIA.

At the northern viewpoint, there was a nice comparison shot of our intimate, 684-guest INSIGNIA versus P & O’s mass market, 3,192-passenger VENTURA.

Gibraltar lady butterfly.

We wrapped up Gib. with a leisurely visit to Trafalgar Cemetery.

INSIGNIA in bloom.

Back at the ship, there was time to unwind and enjoy all the dining and leisure options the INSIGNIA had to offer.

MV INSIGNIA Grand Dining Room, facing aft.

Pubbing it up in the Grand.

In the Grand Dining Room, perhaps inspired by our British Colonial surrounds, Mike opted for the hearty pub lunch.

Rock in the wake.

At 7:00 PM, the INSIGNIA left Gibraltar in her wake and entered the Atlantic. Another magical dinner in Toscana was followed with Syrah Rose, a twee vocal trio in the Insignia Lounge that went over nicely with our fellow guests.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Guadalqvir passage.

We awoke as INSIGNIA made her way up the Guadalqvir River towards Seville. Thankfully, the often daunting elements of tide, river flow and wind were in our favor.

Passing under the suspension bridge, Seville.

With Seville’s distinctive skyline in the distance, we would soon learn why the 30,277-gt INSIGNIA and her sisters are the largest cruise ships to call at Seville. The span of one particular suspension bridge seemed to hover a mere foot or two above the tip of the radio mast.

Backward squeeze!

INSIGNIA then carefully spun around in the basin upstream of the suspension bridge, only to maneuver backwards into the open mouth of a large drawbridge.

Drawbridge passage complete.

With mere feet to clear on either side, INSIGNIA then backed into her berth.

Seville plaque exchange ceremony.

On our way out to explore Seville, we caught the plaque exchange with Dubrovnik-based Captain Marjoe Brajcic, his team of officers and the local port authorities for the INSIGNIA’s auspicious maiden visit.

Queueing up at the Alcazar.

We walked straight to the Alcazar where the queue looked formidable.

Arches of Alcazar.

Fortunately, the line moved quickly and we were soon within the walls of the Mudejar-style palace complex, part of which dates from the 1st Century.

Alcazar courtyard.

For the next couple hours, we explored.

Alcazar baths.

With its opulent, tile-fringed detailing, soaring courtyards and sprawling gardens, it’s no wonder parts of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Game of Thrones” were filmed here.

The Metropole Parasol.

Once reached via Seville’s labyrinthine streets, our next stop couldn’t have been more divergent. The Metropol Parasol is almost like an apparition from the original “Planet of the Apes”, a wooden structure designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer that was completed in April of 2011

Above the honeycomb.

For the reasonable admission price of a few Euros, visitors have access to the rooftop terraces offering views of Seville, with an included drink (water, coffee or wine).

MV INSIGNIA at Seville.

We then joined some local, camera-shy friends for a coffee in the shadows of the massive cathedral before heading back to the INSIGNIA, just in time for dinner in the Polo Grill.

MV INSIGNIA Polo Grill, facing forward.

Located on aft Deck 10, the 98-seat Polo Grill may well be the INSIGNIA’s most popular and sought-after dining venue. Even with our concierge level status, securing a reservation here was a coup.

From Polo to Seville.

From our table at the stern of the ship, we watched as the sun dimmed and the lights of Seville flickered on.

Polo steak.

Carnivorous readers can thank Mike for ordering a USDA Prime-certified steak, dry-aged for 28 days for maximum flavor.

MV INSIGNIA at Seville.

After dinner, we walked around the riverfront, which was rife with promenaders and bicyclists.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Plaza de España.

With INSIGNIA’s firm noon departure, we began our early and and somewhat frantic tourist agenda. Mere steps away from the ship were the gardens of the Plaza de España, built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exhibition.

Expo detailing.

Mixing elements of Moorish, Spanish and Renaissance Revival architecture, it is surely one of the most exquisite monuments in all of Seville. Or Spain, for that matter.

Torre del Oro.

From there, it was onward along the riverfront, past the impressive Torre del Oro, a ten-sided watchtower built in the Thirteenth Century.

Museo de Bellas Artes.

We made it to the Museo de Bellas Artes with just a few minutes to spare.

Steamboat on the Guadalqvir.

Although it would have been ideal to spend a couple hours, we managed to squeeze in most of its collection of works by Spanish artists from the middle ages through the early 20th Century.

River run.

We scrambled back to the INSIGNIA via the riverside trail moments before last call. For the duration of the afternoon, our ship would make her way downstream to the Atlantic, continuing her semi-circumnavigation of Iberia.

End Of Part Two

Click Here For Part Three

Very Special Thanks: Tim Rubacky

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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