Like speed dating, cruising through the Straight of Gibraltar has revealed a new port of call with each morning. Before entering mainland Europe, Monday ushered in the island of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands and home to Spain's highest peak, the volcanic mountain of Tiede.
The road leading toward the summit along the island's northern coast passes through several microclimates before punching through the clouds into an otherworldly landscape of obsidian fields and lava flows, testament to ancient violence. Boasting a population of some 800,000, Tenerife's economy is supported almost entirely by more than 5 million annual visitors.
A nominal fluctuation in coastal temperatures is largely responsible for Tenerife's popularity, especially among Europeans escaping long winter months. The raw natural beauty of Tiede and the surrounding caldera draws others hunting the inspiration of natural wonders.
By Wednesday, a cavalcade of ports heralded a quickening end to our ocean voyage. Beginning in Cadiz on Spain's Atlantic coast, excursions are followed by the Mediterranean cities of Malaga and Valencia. Highlighting the ages of Spain's history, this trio of cities shows how time has changed and sculpted the evolution of the country's coast.
Cadiz, the picture of medieval Spain, enchants visitors with its narrow, winding cobblestone streets. Well preserved by imposing city walls, still intact at several key points, the remnants of these defensive barriers are found of varying ages hidden within one another and range from the 13th to 18th centuries. Like Russian nesting dolls, the city continued to build outside of its walls increasing in area while effectively keeping its historical district alive.
This port city rose to prominence as one of Europe's wealthiest during Roman occupation serving as a terminus for explorers returning from the New World. Christopher Columbus set sail from Cadiz for his second transatlantic expedition in 1493. Successful explorers brought with them gold and other valuable treasures, creating wealth along with a trade empire.
New World gold can still be seen adorning the altars of Cathedrals throughout Cadiz. The "New Cathedral," as it's known, remains one of the largest in Christendom standing above the city with its glistening gold dome. The sanctuary took 116 years to complete and consumed the careers of several architects embodying the architectural styles of three separate generations.
Malaga and Valencia showcase a modern Spain with high rises and thriving industry. Within the city centers, these towns have managed to retain their history and legacy. Malaga and Valencia both radiate around monumental cathedrals and nearby bullrings, while Malaga stands apart with an ancient fortress towering above the skyline.
At the city's highest point, Malaga's Alcazaba and Gibralfaro stand guard over aging plazas and modern advancements. A palace of Moorish origin, the Alcazaba is connected by a garden of royal value to the imposing Gibralfaro, or citadel, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city. This sprawling, labyrinthine complex dates back to the 11th century. In continuous excavation adjacent to the Alcazaba lies a 1st century Roman theatre, which remained hidden beneath the city until 1951.
As our sailing comes to a close, the end of this chapter brings the realization of an adventure that has yet to begin. The coming days will bring the art and culture of Barcelona followed by Holy Week in Rome.
Matt Shinall is the business reporter for The Daily Tribune News. For more information on his adventure and details on where he travels, visit www.unequaldreams.com.