Iberia On The INSIGNIA, Part Three

Concluding Knego’s 12-night cruise around Iberia aboard Oceania Cruises MV INSIGNIA with visits to Lisbon, Porto, La Coruña and St. Jean-de-Luz before disembarking in Bordeaux.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Belem Tower.

It was brisk but spectacularly clear on deck as INSIGNIA made her approach to beautiful Lisbon. By the time we neared Belem Tower, the 16th Century stone fortification on the north shore of the River Tagus, a trickle of guests had begun to line the ship’s Deck 10 and 11 rails.

Lisbon Explorer’s Monument.

Next up, of course, was the Monument of the Discoveries, built in 1960 as an exact replica of the one built in 1940 to commemorate the Portuguese explorers (Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and Pedro Alvares Cabral) from the Age of the Discoveries.

Approaching the Tagus Bridge.

And then, the mighty Tagus Bridge, often but incorrectly likened to San Francisco’s Golden Gate. This 3,323-foot span is far smaller than the 4,200 foot Golden Gate and, despite its identical orange color, is actually much more similar in appearance to the spans of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.

Up to the Tagus Bridge.

As a matter of fact, the Tagus Bridge, was designed and built by the American Bridge Company, which also built the Bay Bridge.

Span in the wake.

Built in 1966 and originally named for the Portuguese dictator Salazar, it became the 25 Abril Bridge in honor of the peaceful Carnation Revolution in 1974 that overthrew Portugal’s Estado Novo military regime.

Praca do Comercio.

As we approached the Praca do Comercio, the huge square dominated by an imposing statue of King Jose I, the INSIGNIA began to maneuver into her berth at the Santa Apollonia cruise terminal. Our morning “tour” of Lisbon had come to an end.

MV PORTO and MV FUNCHAL at Lisbon.

A separate post will rightfully be dedicated to our afternoon on board two of the world’s last vintage cruise ships, the former liners FUNCHAL of 1961 and the PORTO, which was built in 1965 as the ISTRA for Yugoslavia’s state owned Jadrolinija shipping company.


These two elegant beauties, having recently been given multi-million dollar refits for now defunct cruise company Portuscale, are currently being offered for sale.

Luis in the lobby.

Our guide and host, Luis Miguel-Correia, is one of the world’s most cherished ship historians, a superb photographer and the author of numerous books and the man behind the blog Navios e do Mar/Ships and the Sea.

Portuscale duet.

When I last saw the FUNCHAL, she was laid up with a very uncertain future. Since that time, she was given a full make-over to conform with 2010’s SOLAS requirements as well as a complete transformation of her cabins and public areas. Her brief reprieve came in 2013, when she operated a season of cruises but sadly came to a quick end in 2015, when Portuscale ceased operations.

PORTO bulb.

A complete overhaul was also given to the PORTO, including steel work and revitalized public spaces, but the ship, which last operated as the ARION, never saw service under her current name. She would be perfect for a small cruise line operating in the Adriatic or Aegean, the seas she once called home when sailing as the ISTRA and later ASTRA.

Stern lines.

Although the first signs of rust are setting in, both of these ladies still have a lot of life left in them if only they could find the right buyer. It’s hard to compete with the heavily discounted, mass market, balconied behemoths of today but there is still a core of cruisers who savor the authentic and intimate sea-going experience these two ships can provide.

Capturing the Portuguese ladies.
MV FUNCHAL and MV PORTO in the late afternoon.

For yours truly, there is no greater joy than being able to gaze at such sculpted beauties. There are only a handful left and I hope these two, in particular, have another life or two left in them.

Through the lens of Correia.

And there was no greater honor than to have spent such a day with Luis, a kindred spirit who has dedicated his life to documenting and preserving the history of these great ships.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fountains of Queluz.

Even in the INSIGNIA’s practically perfect bubble of a world, there is that rare glitch. We showed up a tad early for our excursion muster and waited several minutes past the assigned time, wondering why it hadn’t been called. Turns out that guests that were supposed to be on the prior day’s identical excursion showed up and took our slots, so when the planned number of guests arrived, the excursion left early. So much for finally seeing Sintra and Cascais — maybe next time!

The Shore Excursions agent offered us a free trip to Lisbon’s gardens in addition to a refund on the one we had booked, a gesture we appreciated. In a way, I’m kind of glad we were diverted to Queluz, the 18th Century palace in the Sintra district on the northern outskirts of Lisbon.

Queluz aloft.

Our guide was excellent, offering up numerous interesting morsels about the royals that haunted Queluz’s gilded, frescoed and chandeliered halls.

Poor King John VI.

At one point, she even pointed out a portrait of whom she deigned “the ugliest king in the history of the world”, John VI, who ruled between 1816 and 1822. After that, we were putty in her hands.

Queluz ceramics.

In the midst of its gardens, azulejo ceramics line a canal that the royals used for boat outings by temporarily diverting the waters from a nearby river.

Ajuda Botanical Gardens.

Our second stop was Belem’s Ajuda Botanical Gardens, dating from the mid-18th Century.

Jacaranda and Bougainvillea at Ajuda.

After a brief tour of its verdant gardens and rare plant specimens, we were on our way back to the INSIGNIA for a quick lunch. All in all, an unexpected but very enjoyable morning seeing sights that might otherwise have been overlooked.

Memorial rotundae.

Luis rejoined us for a quick walk up to the Panteao Nacional, built in the 17th Century as a church but converted into a monument in 1916 where various former Portuguese rulers are now entombed.

MV INSIGNIA at Lisbon.

From there, we had a fantastic view of the Tagus and the INSIGNIA, which would soon be departing for Porto.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Porto tower.

After a night of gentle pitching in the Atlantic, the INSIGNIA entered Porto’s breakwater on a misty drizzle of a morning. We headed off on the Highlights of Porto tour, which began with a walk through town at the base of the Clerigos Tower. Although there was no time to climb its 240 stairs for a panoramic view of the town, it is on my “to do” list for my next visit.

Porto train station.

One of many highlights was the Sao Bento train station, which has some stunning azulejos or painted mosaics depicting the history of Portugal.

Porto overview.

From the base of the Porto Cathedral, the lower portion of town was brightened by the emerging sun.

Porto bridge.

When we reached the mighty Douro River, we had time on our own to explore, allowing us a leisurely crossing to Vila Nova de Guia via the Dom Luis I bridge, a remarkable arch structure designed by Theophil Seyrig, a pupil of Gustav Eiffel.

North shore of the Douro.

From across the way, Porto looked like an Impressionist painting.

Port tasting.

No day in Porto would be complete without a proper port tasting, which we obliged at the Burmester winery.

Porto beach.

Our coach returned us to the ship in time for a quick lunch before we took the shuttle from the pier to the neighboring town of Matosinhos, where we were able to walk to the beach.

Beach run at Porto.

After an invigorating run, we caught the shuttle back to the ship.

Porto Cruise Terminal.

Before re-embarking, we explored the cruise terminal building, a unique multi-purpose structure designed by architect Luis Pedro Silva.

Beetroot carpaccio.

As INSIGNIA made her way into the Atlantic, we enjoyed yet another delicious meal in the Grand Dining Room.

Sunset on the Atlantic.

After dinner, INSIGNIA encountered some moderately rough seas en route to La Coruña.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

MV INSIGNIA at La Coruña.

It was nice to have a low key day in La Coruña, the Galician port on the southern end of the Bay of Biscay.

Lonely gull of La Coruña.

We spent most of the morning walking through town as many of INSIGNIA’s guests hurtled off on full day coach tours to visit the imposing cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

La Coruña town hall.

La Coruña has a beautiful town hall fronted by the Maria Pita Square, named for a local heroine.

Balconies of Galicia.

One of La Coruna’s most distinctive features are its galerias or glass-enclosed balconies that can be enjoyed in any weather.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

MV INSIGNIA at St Jean-de-Luz.

After a little more bouncing around the Atlantic and Bay of Biscay, INSIGNIA anchored at St. Jean-de-Luz, a pretty French hamlet not far from the Galician border.

Stormy promontory at St. Jean-de-Luz.

We tendered ashore and took a walk to the neighboring village whose long promontory/breakwater juts into the sea. Ironically, the ship had turned her back to us, so the effort to get a nice photo was dashed as much by the gloomy surrounds as it was INSIGNIA’s perceived shyness.

Atlantic conquest.

Still, the walk was worth it just to watch the massive waves inundate the shoreline.

MV INSIGNIA at St. Jean-de-Luz.

Back on the busy waterfront of St. Jean-de-Luz, where a promenade fronts numerous shops and cafes, the INSIGNIA beckoned.

Promenade of St. Jean-de-Luz.

We were tempted by some of the local treats but knew that equally good or better food awaited on board.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Canelles and biscotti at Barista’s.

Our last morning aboard was spent leisurely as INSIGNIA sat at the dull container terminal of Le Verdon, where fellow guests ventured off on long excursions into Bordeaux’s wine region. We sat with laptops, espresso and those caramelized canelles in Barista’s, occasionally glancing out the window. I would say that five or six of the ten pounds gained on this trip came from indulging in far too many of these tasty little confections.

INSIGNIA transiting La Garonne.

At 1:00 PM, the INSIGNIA cast her lines and headed up the Gironde Estuary and eventually the Garonne River to Bordeaux, ironically, where those delicious canelles are a staple in every cafe.

Under the new bridge.

In a similar maneuver to that of Seville a couple days prior, the INSIGNIA passed under a suspension bridge and then a lift bridge, then spun around and pivoted towards the waterfront.

MV INSIGNIA at Bordeaux.

Shortly after she tied up, we went out for one final stroll, taking in the sights, tempting aromas and sounds of the promenade.

Wine museum.
Crack in the glass.

Although it was closed, we reached the wine museum before the sun dimmed out, taking some photos before heading back up river to the center of Bordeaux.

Bordeaux fountain.

After few more twilight photo ops at the main fountain, we bid a fond adieu to Bordeaux, packed and tried to get some sleep before our early morning departure. Real life and all of its ups and downs were just a day and three flights ahead.

End Of INSIGNIA to Iberia

Very special thanks: Luis Miguel-Correia, Tim Rubacky


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