23 Aug 2008

Lost Jews of Palma (Mallorca)

Today I arranged for a private Jewish tour of Palma, Mallorca.

Tip – Generally opting for a private tour instead of a group tour is the smart way to go. Often just four people can sightsee cheaper with a private guide than signing up for the group tour. It certainly allows much more customization and knowledge while shortening the elapsed time. Sitting in a bus waiting for stranglers is not my idea of a good time.

I like Jewish tours because 1) I am Jewish, and 2) they tend to cover centuries of a region’s entire history. Therefore a Jewish tour is quite comprehensive.

Jews were persecuted severely in Spain for centuries going way back. They were formally banned about the time of Columbus, but many had emigrated by then. Many others converted to Christianity and their families practiced the faith for 600 years. Much of the population here is Chuetas who were originally of Jewish descent. Even after converting they were generally second class citizens.

Now some choose to regain their Jewish faith and convert, others feel there is no reason to convert because they already are Jewish. Yet others are very happy being Christian as that is what they have known for generations. Finally, some claim there never was any mixed blood. Actually there is significant mixed Jewish and Muslim blood all over Spain because of the mass conversions.

Many Chuetas practiced a few Jewish traditions, but never knew why. Sometimes traditions were passed along but not the rationale or background for the safety of the families. Even today there are some interesting things done and not said in the open community.

Note the picture on this blog. This is a window of a jewelry store mainly selling Catholic items. Notice the item circled in yellow containing a hand with a finger pointing inwards to the store. That is a yad. A yad is used by Jews around the world to point to their place when reading from the Torah. My theory is that here the store owner is secretly pointing out that he has some Jewish background – almost like a secret handshake. I asked my guide who knows the owners and confirmed they have a Chuetas background but are Christians.

22 Aug 2008

Port Mahon, Menorca Island

Once in a while a cruise stops in a wonderful port that I would never choose on my own.  Today's port was exactly that.  We moored at Port Mahon, Menorca Island, Spain.  It is less known and less visited than the more famous Balearic Island counterparts, Majorca and Ibiza.

Menorca is friendly, charming, slow and encircled with 50 beaches, each one nicer than the next.

We just strolled around.  That's the best activity here other than beaching.


I enjoy Spain because I get to practice my Spanish which I took for six years in school.  I did perfectly in asking where I could find an Internet cafe.  Unfortunately I had no clue as to the response.

Trivia tidbit - Port Mahon is known locally as Mao and is thought to be the home of mayonnaise or at least the derivation of the word.

21 Aug 2008

Sea Day on the Wind Surf

Today was a sea day.  For experienced travelers sea days are the best.  There is none of the hustle bustle of a port day with the almost artificial obligation to get out early and see everything that there is to see.

Sea days mean doing whatever you want.  In our instance that was sleeping in, working out, watching a movie, and playing a couple of games.  The hours were mostly spent outside in the perfect weather reading, sleeping and chatting.

I particularly like the outdoor relaxing options of sea days.  Because of the ship's movement it usually is possible to choose between sun and shade, as well as between breeze and no breeze.  Of course this assumes the weather is nice.

Allyn has become hooked on Su Doku, some kind of number game.

Once again I am fascinated with the Olympics.  Things like races don't do that much for me because it is so hard to relate to the how good the athletes are.  But then I watch things like gymnastics on the rings and I am in absolute awe.

Sometimes when I watch people like the little Chinese girl who seems like she is 8 years old and 50 pounds, I feel odd.  She is soo good that it is almost sad.  Clearly she has no other life.


20 Aug 2008


Capri is one of the great tourist stops.  It is so great that there are too many people here often which can cause tremendous congestion and commotion.

None of the action or the beauty is at the marina.

Tip - Whatever you do try and arrive before 10 AM or after 2 PM during summer; otherwise you may be waiting in line for an hour or more to get up the mountain to the various areas.

It is one of the few places in this part of the Mediterranean that is loaded with named brands and boutiques.  I find the local stores far more interesting.

Sightseeing tip - Don't miss the Blue Grotto.  It is not only world famous but quite unique as well.

19 Aug 2008

Amalfi and Sorrento

What a beautiful day we had. The morning was spent walking around Amalfi. Like the other towns on the Amalfi coast, it is quaint, charming, lovely and full of friendly people. Although the coast is named for this town, it is quite small, quite Italian and not packed with tourists. That adds to its charm. Most people who disembarked for the day did it just to grab a trip to Pompeii which is definitely worthwhile.

Then the ship repositioned to Sorrento. Although I really cannot stand shopping, Sorrento is one of the few cities of the world where I can spend hours walking the streets and actually visiting a store or two. I consider it sightseeing more than shopping. Although the view to the water is unsurpassed, I feel that it is actually surpassed by the view along the narrow, windy streets.

Travel tip – There are four ways to get from the port up the hill. Walking works, but be advised that there are over 200 stairs. Taxis are generally plentiful at about 10 Euros. Free shuttle buses make the run, but not often and are CRAMMED. There is an easy 1 Euro bus that goes more often and is fun. I recommend the vehicle route because the trip itself is an experience. The drivers yell at each other in the classic Italian manner. The road is NARROW yet has two way traffic and it is a hoot.

Restaurant tip – Il Buco,  is outstanding gourmet Italian right in the heart of town. If you eat outside every table is at a different level walking down a hill and extremely private.

Restaurant tip 2 – Don Alfonso, is considered the best restaurant in Southern Italy. It is just nine kilometers out of town. Unfortunately it is closed Mondays which precluded us from eating there.