Reflections on the Mediterranean

Have you ever visited the Mediterranean and the countries surrounding it? If not, parts of it are well worth a visit; but with the eastern end dangerous at the present time, because of countries like Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Egypt taking frequent pot-shots at each other!

The first time we experienced it, Jacqui and I sailed from the eastern end, via the Suez Canal, to Gibraltar at the western end where it joins the Atlantic, when we travelled back to England in 1964, after five years living in New Zealand. And we have spent several holidays in various places around the coast in the years since then.

To start in Egypt and the Canal, this is an experience in itself, a broad waterway about the same width as the length of a soccer pitch, totally different to the Panama Canal, which seems barely wide enough for an ocean liner to get through in some places. Plus of course, the Panama has many locks, in order to cross the central hills forming a barrier between the Caribbean and the Pacific, whereas the Suez has no locks at all. Heading north through the canal, we were stunned to note that on the left shore (the Egyptian side), there were lush looking fields, covered in crops, stately palm trees swaying in the breeze and a liberal dotting of houses, throughout the whole length of the waterway. But stroll across to the starboard side of the ship and you are confronted by nothing but sand – pure desert as far as the eye can see. Not a tree to be seen, nor a blade of grass; it was hard to believe two such different landscapes could be so close together!

Unfortunately, on that trip we were young and poor, and were unable to afford the one thing I would have really appreciated – a visit to the pyramids, especially as we had two toddlers with us and another one on the way! Just the passage through the canal was interesting though, with a lot of sunken shipping all along it, remnants of the war that had taken place down that way a few years previously, and then the “bum-boats” waiting to sell us all sorts of goodies at Port Said. (Sketch attached).

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As I said, in the intervening years, before we came south again in 1987, we spent several holidays around the ‘Med’. A particular favourite of ours was Menorca, one of the group of islands off the coast of Spain, which go under the generic name of ‘The Balearics’. Menorca is the ‘quiet’ island of the group, still very popular with the tourists, but not as commercialised as the other islands. There are (or were when we used to go there, no skyscraper hotels or specially built resorts, and the whole place is genuinely Spanish. Restaurants and cafes sell Spanish food, not fish and chips; the bars peddle local beers and Island-made gin, not Watney’s Red Barrel, and staff there, in shops and bars are always friendly and helpful, and they speak good English too. We’ve also spent holidays on the other islands, Majorca, Ibiza and Formentera, but our favourite remains Menorca and a tiny village called Cala en’Porter on the south coast. This was originally a fishing village, with a wonderfully sheltered beach, between high cliffs. No fishing boats now I’m afraid; instead, many small villas have been built there for the holiday makers, and several fine cafes, restaurants and bars have appeared, to serve them as well. But all the building has been kept very much in traditional Spanish style, mainly single story, with flat roofs suitable for sun-bathing and almost all painted dazzling white. There’s also a cave at Cala en’Porter, which starts about a hundred metres inland and finishes as a large opening half way up the cliff, overlooking the sea; this is the town’s night-club and dancing venue, Jacqui and I have spent many a happy hour there – I even used to dance in those days!

Wow, I was intending to write about the other wonderful places we’ve been to around the Med, like Naples, Malta and Gibraltar, but I seem to have run out of available word space, so I’d better pack in now. I’ll try to write another piece on this subject in the next week or so, about the places not mentioned here.

Have you ever visited the Mediterranean? What was it like? What part did you enjoy the most?