Gibraltar, Mallorca, & Sardinia
I write this blog with the Ukraine war present as a disturbing cloud on the mood of our pleasant cruise. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the cruise schedule is very busy in the upcoming weeks in the Mediterranean. In fact, we will be in port on seven consecutive days, including two days (and one night) in Venice. So my upcoming blogs will combine several ports, with as many photos as the ship’s internet will enable.
Susan and I had visited Gibraltar on a previous trip (our land trip from Portugal through Southern Spain and a week in Morocco). Thus, we did not need to revisit the famous caverns or see the monkeys. (Legend states that when/if the Gibraltar monkeys are no longer on Gibraltar, “the Rock” will no longer be British.) That previous tour was several years ago, and we were surprised at the number of newly constructed high-rise buildings, which include apartment buildings and luxury hotels. The Rock is home to approximately thirty-five thousand British citizens, who have stubbornly maintained their possession in spite of continuing pressure from Spain to re-possess the Rock as well as all residents having to be relocated for several years during World War II. Around fifteen thousand Spanish workers cross over the border from Spain to work during the days.
We took a bus tour around the island, which included passing by the mosque located at the end of the island facing Morocco. We visited the “hundred-ton-gun,” a huge weapon that was actually never used in battle. However, Gibraltar was an important British base during World War II. Many tunnels were dug inside the mountain, some of which are still off limits due to continued use by the British military. We were told that there are more tunnels inside the mountain than there are roads around the Rock.
Palma de Mallorca
The island of Mallorca is a paradise island with beautiful landscapes and a moderate climate. It is one of the Balearic Islands, which are part of modern Spain. Historically, the islands settled by the Phoenicians (along with Cadiz and Malaga), conquered by the Romans, Moors, and Catalans. Mallorca residents speak Spanish, Catalan, and their own language which contains words from both the dominant languages. The Romans founded the capital city of Palma, which is a popular destination for European tourists. Mallorca’s total population is under one million. But the Palma airport had twenty-eight million visitors(!) in 2017, making it one of Europe’s busiest airports.
Once again, as in our previous Spanish tours, we heard of the terrible forty-year rule by the dictator Francisco Franco. Prior to Franco’s death in 1974, there was little industrial development or tourism on the island. Most citizens were engaged in agriculture, which is still the occupation for a large part of the population. Due its moderate climate, vegetable crops can be raised year-round. Fruits and vegetables are exported to northern Europe.
A highlight of our day on Mallorca was a visit to an olive oil “finca” (farm). After a thorough tour of the farm, we were offered tastes of extra virgin olive oil produced on the farm. This farm is quite small compared with much larger mass production olive industries in Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey. The owner convinced us that his goal was the highest quality oil as opposed to as large a quantity of olive oil, which would be possible if he were to change his harvest schedule. The older the olives are, the more oil they yield. But the taste is more bitter and quality is not as desirable as with young olives. Thus, we purchased a bottle to bring home with us.
The island of Sardinia is the second largest Mediterranean island (after Sicily). It’s residents speak Italian as well as its archaic language, Sardu, which is an endangered language due to the dominance of Italian. Sardinia is one of Italy’s “special autonomous zones.” Sardinia, too, was settled by the Phoenicians, and ruled by the Romans, Vandals, Ottomans, and Spanish. It became part of Italy in the 19th century and achieved it present independent state in 1946. The island is home to around two million people. Tourism is an important industry. But the island is also important for both NATO and Israeli military exercises (war games). Its landscape is quite mountainous and thus not as well suited to agriculture as Mallorca.
Our day’s tour was an excursion to experience Sardinian music, dance, and wine. Generally speaking, I like “folk music.” Folk music is genuine, honest, traditional, and linked to the culture from which it originates. The music and dance was very entertaining, reminding me somewhat of Bulgarian vocal music. But most interesting was a unique reed instrument called the launeddas. It consists of three reed flutes, one of which acts as a drone, while the other two enable the player to play two different harmonic lines. Playing the launeddas requires “circular breathing,” a technique that I’m familiar with but have not mastered. This instrument was so special, that I managed to buy one from one of the performers (for one hundred Euros). I doubt that I will ever be able to master it to approach the skill level of the performers we heard. But I’m pretty certain that I will be one of very few Americans to possess this ancient traditional instrument. There is a bronze statuette dating from approximately 2000 BC of a figure playing three reeds similar to the launeddas.