29 years
Community Service
News Magazine
Operated by couple Eddie Flores and Orquidia Valenzuela
News and Views of the
Filipino Community Worldwide

July 11 – 19, 2012

By Orquidia Valenzuela
Fri 31st August 2012

When we came back from our vacation in Manila early this year we made plans with long-time friends to get together in the summer but it was already the second of July and still raining.  Late in the afternoon Sunday when I logged on the internet among the incoming e- mail was from a travel agency offering a last-minute cultural cruise to three countries.  Eddie was excited because the ports of call of the ship are near historical sites we have not been to. How can we resist the offer, not only was the price reduced but if booked between seven to nine-thirty of the same evening there is still a 10% deduction from the total price.

In Spain the ship will dock in La Coruña. Not far from the port is Santiago de Compostela, a Catholic pilgrimage destination. Another port of call in Spain is Bilbao. The city attracts thousands of art lovers since the opening of Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

In France, La Rochelle is a haven for boating enthusiasts.

The ship will stop for one day in Southampton in Great Britain. There are daily trips from the port to nearby places, among them to Salisbury, known for its Cathedral. In Wilshire, a short distance from Salisbury is located one of the wonders of the world, Stonehenge.

All-in: “ buffet breakfast, coffee time, buffet lunch, merienda,  fine-dining, evening theatre entertainment….”  accommodation on board MSC Opera from port of Ijmuiden-Netherlands to Spain, France, UK and back to Ijmuiden in 9 days.  

Santiago de Compostela (Spain)

The first port of call of our cruise ship MSC Opera was La Coruna. We joined a tour that took us to Santiago de Compostela, capital of Galicia province.
Façade-Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santiago (Saint James) de Compostela (Campus Stellae, field of stars) stands in the plaza of the old city. Santiago de Compostela is a Catholic pilgrimage route, called the Way of Saint James (Camino de Santiago) since the 9th century and the pilgrimage continues up to this time. It is said that if a pilgrim wants to follow the old custom, the journey should start in the home and end in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. For this, the pilgrim will receive plenary indulgence.

We were told that around 100,000 pilgrims from all over the globe go to Compostela every year to pray and implore the intercession of Saint James.  Catholics consider Compostela a sacred place.

Among the faithfuls who pray for the intercession of Saint James are Filipino Catholics and quite a number who have the means and resources have journeyed to the place. Kababayan in the Netherlands organize trips to Compostela.

The Cathedral occupies a vast area of the old city. We went inside through one of its four huge entrances while mass was being said.  The 13th century-old statue of Saint James is in the Cathedral. The grandeur of the altar and the large statues of saints are truly work of art with reverence. We followed the queue leading to what we were told were the remains of Saint James.

Our guide told us before we began the tour that one story about Saint James is that he preached in Galicia before he traveled to the Holy Land. After he was beheaded his disciples brought back his remains and buried it in Galicia.

Saint James feast day is July 25 and when this falls on a Sunday it is declared a Holy Year. The last jubilee celebration was in 2010 and the next one will be in 2021.

Our tour afforded us enough time to saunter leisurely in the small streets of the old city taking photographs of the historical buildings, churches and quaint houses. We climbed the staircase in front of the Cathedral just like other tourists were doing to get a better view of the square. At one side of the square is the hostel for pilgrims, Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos which was constructed during the time of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela. It is now a luxurious hotel.

Noticing that we were tempted to buy chorizos and Spanish cheese sold in the market our guide warned that the ship is strict in bringing in fresh food.  To compensate for our disappointment we went to one of the cozy small restaurants.  We read earlier that the cuisine specialty of the province is seafood, fish specially. We ordered the menu of that day, fish steamed with herbs served with broiled potatoes and green salad. It was one of the tastiest and satisfying dishes we have eaten.

Bilbao (Spain)

The following morning the ship anchored in Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. We thought we will have enough time to go inside the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, one of the Guggenheim museums in the world. But our guide dissuaded us because he said we need one day to appreciate the modern and contemporary works of art of international artists displayed in the museum. We settled for a city tour that included a drive around the museum.

Guggenheim Museum-Bilbao

From the road we had a very good view of the museum which is near the Nervion River. The design of the building is impressive. Our bus driver must have sensed our excitement and eagerness to take souvenir photos.  He drove slowly several times around the museum and we kept on clicking our cameras. It is difficult to describe the remarkable architecture of the building and the beauty of the landscape. It is better to show them in pictures.

Panoramic view-Bilbao City

We were informed that the building was designed by celebrated architect Frank Gehry. It was inaugurated in Oct. 18 1997 by King Juan Carlos I and since then tourists especially lovers of arts and culture have been going to Galicia.

La Rochelle (France)

The ship’s next port of call is La Rochelle, a city of arts and culture. Small and luxurious boats, cozy coffee bars and restaurants give the port a distinctive aura.  We walked further reaching the old port where three medieval towers are very visible, the tower of Saint Nicolas; tower of the Chain; and tower of the Lantern. These towers are undoubtedly the city’s major attraction.

La Rochelle-watch-tower gate to the haven

A harmony of old and modern architecture makes La Rochelle unique. In the small streets are houses made of wood while others are elegant and grand. The port city has interesting churches.

Big events like International Film Festival, jazz and other cultural shows are held in the city center, attracting both young and old to the place. There is a market in the plaza where herbs, natural soaps, porcelain and souvenir items are sold. Name it La Rochelle has it and sold tax-free, this was according to our guide.

What I can say is that La Rochelle is the place to relax and enjoy a vacation. One will not get bored in La Rochelle.

Salisbury (Southampton-UK)

The ship’s bulletin issued the previous night stated that we will have one whole day in Southampton which is not far from Salisbury.  TV programs on history and culture are good source of information. One of the documentaries we saw that aroused our interest was about Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

We left for a tour of Salisbury at seven in the morning. There were only about 10 buses loaded with tourists when we arrived at the place.

Salisbury Cathedral is an Anglican church and is officially referred to as the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Cathedral in Gothic English style dates back to the 13th century. We took photos of the Cathedral from several angles not forgetting its spire which is the tallest among church spires in England.

Original copies of Magna Carta of 1215

Eddie and I were much surprised when our tour guide said that there are still four original copies of the Magna Carta (Latin for Great Charter) of England that are in existence and one is kept in Salisbury Cathedral. It is still readable.

The original document is kept in the Cathedral’s Charter House. For the visitors there is an informative leaflet, “Magna Carta 1215 AD: An Introduction.”

The leaflet gives an account of the events that triggered off the Great Charter. King John who ruled Great Britain imposed heavy tax on his people to pay for the wars in France and crusades in the Holy Land. This led to the revolt of the barons and bishops. They demanded for a Charter that will give them the liberties which they had before. Eventually, losing the war with the French and with the growing unrest among his people, on June 15, 1215, King John acceded to the demands of the barons.  He signed the Great Charter, the Magna Carta.

Significant clause of the Magna Carta is that which recognizes and protects the rights and liberty of every individual, that no one is above the law. From the leaflet, “The 63 clauses (of the Magna Carta) written in Latin on vellum(calf skin)…, include the fundamental principles of a fair trial before one’s equals, a recognition that the King is not above the law, the freedom of the Church to govern its own affairs, and the righting of many abuses…..to no-one will we deny or delay right or justice.”  

Magna Carta became a law in England on June 15, 1297.

Many countries have made Magna Carta the frame of reference in drafting their charter and constitution.

The Philippine Congress enacted and the then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law in 2009, the “Magna Carta of Women,” Section 2 of the Declaration of Policy states, “It (the state) shall promote empowerment of women and pursue equal opportunities for women and men and ensure equal access to resources and to development results and outcome. Further the state realizes the equality of men and women entails the abolition of the unequal structures and practices that perpetuate discrimination and inequality.”

Stonehenge (UK)

Stonehenge up to the present time remains an enigma. The large stones stand in the same place in Wilshire near Salisbury just as they were around 3500 BC or maybe earlier. Stonehenge could have been built during the same period some of the temples and monuments in Luxor, Egypt were being constructed.


To quote Stonehenge.org.uk., “Although total construction was not completed at that time, Stonehenge was built in three phases with a time span of 1500 years. There is also evidence at the construction site that it could actually date back as far as 6500 years.”

Stonehenge is listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 1986. 

Our guide said that questions about Stonehenge up to this time remain unanswered: who built it and how and why it was built. There are many theories, among them: built by those who came from outside our universe; as calendar to predict the time of the day, eclipse, rising of the moon, etc.; a sacred place for worship or for other ceremonies. None has been substantiated.

Watching TV programs on Stonehenge draws one interest but there’s nothing more fascinating and intriguing than to saunter around the circle of large stones. I asked myself….. will Stonehenge remain always a puzzle and a mystery?

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