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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2016
Greek Islands Voyage
  Map Embarkation at Southampton  and the initial days at Sea La Palma de Mallorca Piraeus for Athens - Greece Cancelled, replaced by Heraklion - Crete Katakolon for Olympia - Greece Cancelled, replaced by Saranda - Albania Messina - Sicily Cadiz fot Seville - Spain and Activities during the Days at Sea

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Introduction to the Cruise.

This 17 day Autumn cruise to the Greek islands on the Queen Elizabeth was chosen to coincide with our anniversary. The itinerary was unfortunately changed because of the troubles in Turkey so we did not go to Kusadasi which would have taken us to Epheasus or Mykonos, a port we had never visited. Instead we went to Saranda in Albania, a disappointing alternative and Heraklion in Crete which enable us to visit Knossos, an impressive site dating back to 1700 BC, a worthy substitute for Ephasus which we have already been to twice. The final itinery was three days at sea from Southampton to Mallorca, Piraeus, the port of Athens, Heraklion in Crete, Katakolon for Olympia in Greece, Saranda in Alamania, Messina - Italy then back to Southampton via Cadiz in Spain.

The Activities at Sea during the long inital and final passages have been separated out and are at the very end on the write up following Cadiz

Palma de Mallorca - Tuesday 11 October

We have visited Palma many times and usually start our exploration from the Cathedral because a Cunard shuttle bus usually goes there from the port. Unlike most of the churches in Palma the Cathedral is not free but it is a 'must to visit' on a first trip to Mallorca. We will not go into too many details as there are a good write ups already of the Cathedral and the rest of Mallorca, or Majorca as it is often called' at The Black Sea and Turkish Splendours on Queen Victoria in 2013 and A Magical Mystery Tour of the Ancient Wonders of the Worldon Queen Victoria in 2012

The ships berth this time was at the Dock de l'Oest, an even longer way from the main port gate than usual, and our Early Saver ticket meant we would now have to pay $8 each way per person for the Cunard shuttle bus to the cathedral area. We decided to walk and set off towards the Castell of Saint Charles with the intention of walking all the way but saw bus stops for Line 1 from the Port to the Airport. After a bus passed us going towards the port we stopped at the next bus stop near the Porto Pi for its return. The ticket was 1.50 euros within the town, but 3 euros to/from the port and 5 euros to/from the airport, our short walk to the next stop had saved us 1.50€! It is a good frequent service which we used as far as the Placa Espanya where many bus lines converge and there are the two train stations. It was an interesting journey, along the promenade from the main port gate to the Argentina avenue and along the side of the pretty Sa Riera canal. We intended to walk back from Placa Espanya, reversing our route from our previous cruise in 2013.

Unlike our previous visit, the Park of the (Railway) Stations was quiet and the fountains were turned off. The underground supermarket was small and we decided to wait to do shopping - we wanted to buy some local cheese but not to carry it around with us all day. The aim was to walk back to the Cathedral, through the historic town, then back by public bus to Queen Eizabeth. The first decision was to go down the San Miquel avenue, passing the Church of San Miquel. This broad road continued passed the market hall, in the Placa Olivar. The market hall has a good selection of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. There were also several cheese shops and we bought some gold medal-winning Montbru goat cheese made in Barcelona as well as local cheeses. Two were vac-packed and we plan to eat the other before it escapes from our stateroom minibar. There are several stalls selling the famous Jamón Ibérico de Bellota at eyewatering prices which vary from 59 to 200 euros per kg. We wanted to compare the different qualities having recently tried some at the Auberge du Val in Guernsey and negotiated to buy 50g at 139 euros/kg to compare with 50g at 65 euros/kg. The Jamón Ibérico de Bellota was bought as special treat for our wedding anniversary the next day.

Before continuing, I am going to give some background about Jamón Ibérico de Bellota which is arguably the finest ham in the world

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota

The story of Jamón Ibérico, in particular the Bellota ham is steeped in the history of Spain. The ancient oak pastures of Spain, the noble black Ibérico hog, the mountain air which caresses each ham transforms it into one of the world's most exquisite foods. It is an art where patience, skill and adherence to traditional methods all play their part. Firstly one point which many people do not realise is that jamón only refers to hams from the hind legs, front legs are referred to as paleta.

The origin of the Ibérico pig is lost in history but goes back to the time of the cavemen who decorated the caves of Spain. These are the original swine of Spain, tamed over many millennia. The Ibérico hog is big, with slender legs and a very long snout. Ibérico pigs are black, with very little hair. They are easily distinguished by their black hooves which remains on the ham throughout the curing process and distinguishes it from other lesser hams such as the Seranno. They are a much fatter animal with veins of fat running through the muscle of the hog. This, along with the large amount of fat layering each ham, allows the Ibérico hams to be cured much longer, resulting in a much more complex, intense flavor, with a note of sweetness that is unparalleled.

Not all Ibérico hogs live free in the Spanish countryside or or have the highest classification of Bellota. Most Jamón Ibérico is from Ibérico hog who live normal lives eating corn and other feed. It is still an excellent ham, benefiting from the noble lineage of the Ibérico pig but for the ultimate ham, you must add 'bellota', or acorns. Jamón Ibérico de Bellota will cost many times as much as a normal Ibérico ham because they are acorn fed. If they have the Bellota accolade hogs will have finish their lives on the dehesa, in small family clans, until their day of “sacrifice” arrives. The favorite pastime of Ibérico hogs is rooting around the pastures in the dehesa, foraging for acorns. This diet of acorns makes for beautifully marbled raw meat, packed with natural antioxidants – a key ingredient for extended curing of the ham. The Jamón have a number of classifications with increasing importance being placed on the purity of breeding with black label being the highest. Images of acorns and dehesas on product labels are restricted to hams that qualify as bellota.

Many centuries ago, the rulers of western Spain had the foresight to decree that each town and village should maintain pastures studded with oak trees, called the dehesa, for the long term stability of the region. This mixed forest and pasture had many purposes. The holm and cork oaks provided firewood for the people, shade for the plants and livestock, cork products, and acorns (bellota) during fall and winter. During the spring and summer cattle and sheep grazed the fields. During the fall and winter, when the acorns are falling from the trees, the hogs were released to fatten up. The dehesa came under pressure for farming and housing but the renaissance of the Ibérico ham thirty years ago has helped preserving this jewel of Spain. Ibérico pigs love acorns and each pig can eat ten kilos of acorns a day. When the pigs are released onto the dehesa at the age of about 10 months they weigh in at about 90 kgs each. They gain up to 1.5 kgs of fat each day. After 3 to 4 months of the period known as the ‘montanera’ each hog (males and females) roughly doubles their weight and once they reach the approved weight they are ready for slaughter, traditionally a family affair.

A pig would be slaughtered and the whole family would gather to preserve the meat for the rest of the year. Chorizo, salchichón and morcilla sausages would be made on the spot. Choice cuts would be set aside to be eaten fresh. And the all important fatty legs would be packed in sea salt and hung to dry in the cool winter air. This process still continues in some towns as it has for thousands of years. Over the last century, family factories have also begun curing these hams in large quantities using the same methods. The hams are left to absorb the salt for a few weeks, then they are hung in 'factories' that still have open windows to allow the mountain air to circulate around the hams. Ibérico hams usually hang for about two years, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota hams for longer periods. This unusually long curing process is possible because of the huge amount of fat on each ham and, in the case of the Bellota hams, the antioxidant quality of their diets. Over the curing period they loose nearly half their weight as they dry and the fat drips away. An incredible transformation occurs as the winter moves to spring and summer - the salted ham starts to sweat. The salt preserves them against bacteria whilst major chemical changes occur. The meat becomes dryer, and cools as the second winter commences. The special aspect of Ibérico (Acorn fed) ham is that it can go through this cycle two or three times. The result is a build up of complex, volatile molecules that transform it from a piece of pork into a gastronomic experience. With the Bellota hams, the most miraculous transformation is of the fats. Through this period of heating and cooling, salting and drying, the fats are broken down. Because of the antioxidants in the acorns and the unique curing process, the saturated fats are changed into healthy mono-unsaturated fats high in oleic acid. The ultimate result is long, thin leg of ham with a deep golden hue to its fat. The meat is dark red, marbled with veins of fat.

Further along the street we entered two contrasting churches: the first was light whereas the second, the Church of San Miguel, was dark. However it did contain nice stained glass and the sanctuary of the Virgin Mary patron of health.

One new extra visit was to the modern art collection at the Museu Fundacion Juan March in San Miquel which was free entry giving us a chance to look at the 17th century building with fine mosaic flooring and a wide ornate staircase. The 20th century Spanish art was descibed as informalist, innovative modern paintings and sculpture, not really our scene. Crowds were building as we approached the Placa Major where there were the usual craft stalls and entertainers. The underground supermarket there is a good source of supplies - in our case just cheap bottles of water this time.

We saw the Church of Sant Eulalia before reaching the Placa Cort with its old tree and Town Hall, and then it was only a short walk passing more beautiful ornate buildings to the magnificent Cathedral. The weather was starting to look threatening and we looked for the Line 1 bus to return but after waiting in a long queueu decided to risk the walk on foot. We were almost successful and were forced to shelter under a tree until we succumbed to the temptation of sharing a passing taxi with a couple who looked like drowned rats, we at least had an umbrella and semi-waterproof jackets - it was only 10 minutes walk from the ship so was only the same as the bus would have been.

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Content revised: 31s tOctober, 2016