As I relive in memory what I had just experienced from South Africa to the Cape Verde Islands, I was promptly met by my imagination as to what I was in for during the next part of my journey.
The Cape Verde Islands were uninhabited when the Portuguese spotted them in 1456 and founded the first European settlement in the tropics in 1462. Grapes flourished and produced excellent wines leading to slaves being brought in to do the backbreaking work on the plantations. The Portuguese found it the ideal base to control portions of the African coast and as a transit point for slaves on their way to the Americas.
The Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco deserves its reputation for beauty and mild climate. They are volcanic in origin with Mount Teide on Tenerife – the highest peak in Spain at over 12,000 ft. It arises from a volcanic crater over 29 miles in circumference in the centre of Las Canada’s National Park. The rock landscapes that resulted from eruptions have made this a popular setting for spaghetti westerns and space movies located on inhospitable planets.
Casablanca in Morocco has the most beautiful doors imaginable. Doors! A variety of shapes, the wood is carved and polished to a shine and often graced with the ‘Hand of Fatima’ to ward off evil and bring luck to inhabitants. The narrow streets of the old Medina area are cobbled and wind in a manner suggesting mysterious secrets. The detail of the doorways, carvings, tile work and fountains carries into that of the Hassan II Mosque – extraordinary is an understatement. It is built on land reclaimed from the ocean and part of the floor retracts allowing worshippers to pray looking straight into the water.
Ceuta, at the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, contains Mount Hacho which along with Gibraltar, forms the ancient ‘Pillars of Hercules’. A strategic location in ancient times Muslim forces used Hacho to invade Gibraltar and Spain. In the 1500s, Ceuta was settled by Spaniards resulting in today’s blend of Spanish and Moroccan styles. The blue-washed city of Chefchaouen, settled by refugees of the Spanish ‘Reconquista’, contain the Arab Bazaar, the ancient walls of the Alcazaba and the turrets of the Kasba are in this beautiful city. The Medina of Tetouan, settled by Islamic refugees, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We docked in the centre of Rouen near the medieval quarter. It is known as the City of One Hundred Spires which includes the Cathedral Notre Dame de Rouen, started in the 12th Century and completed 300 years later. A bronze cross in the Old Marketplace marks the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy. A small train roams the medieval quarter allowing people to see the historic sites with no exertion. Paris, the quaint 17th Century harbour town of Honfleur and Monet’s Home at Giverny are excursion options for those wanting to venture farther.
The last port of call before disembarking in Dover was Antwerp whose reputation as a diamond cutting centre dates back to the Renaissance. The Cathedral of Our Lady in the Old Town is the largest Gothic cathedral in Belgium with seven naves and 13 pillars. Also in the Old Town is the old marketplace with guild houses, the Town Hall, the Brabo Statue and narrow medieval Pie Alley.
A canal cruise through Ghent and Bruges is a unique medieval experience and provides an opportunity to see famous works of art.
I was saddened that it was coming to an end. So many cultures, so many centuries of history. I could travel the amazing eastern coastline of the two continents and learn again and again.
I was truly struck over and over. One month by far is not enough to see everything. However, it is enough to be able to taste what a world so far away has to offer. The people, history, cultures, and overall energy pouring from that area of the world I will cherish always and never forget.
I look forward to sharing my stories of amazement and beauty.
Kathy Smyth is a travel consultant with Expedia Cruiseshipcenters.