All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.
Wednesday, May 31, 2017
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.
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.
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.
As a matter of fact, the Tagus Bridge, was designed and built by the American Bridge Company, which also built the Bay Bridge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Our guide was excellent, offering up numerous interesting morsels about the royals that haunted Queluz’s gilded, frescoed and chandeliered halls.
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.
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.
Our second stop was Belem’s Ajuda Botanical Gardens, dating from the mid-18th Century.
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.
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.
From there, we had a fantastic view of the Tagus and the INSIGNIA, which would soon be departing for Porto.
Friday, June 2, 2017
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.
One of many highlights was the Sao Bento train station, which has some stunning azulejos or painted mosaics depicting the history of Portugal.
From the base of the Porto Cathedral, the lower portion of town was brightened by the emerging sun.
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.
From across the way, Porto looked like an Impressionist painting.
No day in Porto would be complete without a proper port tasting, which we obliged at the Burmester winery.
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.
After an invigorating run, we caught the shuttle back to the ship.
Before re-embarking, we explored the cruise terminal building, a unique multi-purpose structure designed by architect Luis Pedro Silva.
As INSIGNIA made her way into the Atlantic, we enjoyed yet another delicious meal in the Grand Dining Room.
After dinner, INSIGNIA encountered some moderately rough seas en route to La Coruña.
Saturday, June 3, 2017
It was nice to have a low key day in La Coruña, the Galician port on the southern end of the Bay of Biscay.
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 has a beautiful town hall fronted by the Maria Pita Square, named for a local heroine.
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
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.
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.
Still, the walk was worth it just to watch the massive waves inundate the shoreline.
Back on the busy waterfront of St. Jean-de-Luz, where a promenade fronts numerous shops and cafes, the INSIGNIA beckoned.
We were tempted by some of the local treats but knew that equally good or better food awaited on board.
Monday, June 5, 2017
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.
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.
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.
Shortly after she tied up, we went out for one final stroll, taking in the sights, tempting aromas and sounds of the promenade.
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.
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
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."