Tag Archives: mediterranean cruise

Larry’s Barcelona Birthday!

May 30, 2013 – Day 2 in Barcelona

The happy day is finally here in that this will close out the posts from the 2013 Mediterranean Cruise that Larry & I took.  Yes, it has been almost a year in coming.  I’m not proud of this fact.  But it’s here and it’s probably almost time to figure out the big trip this year.  As I’ve prattled about elsewhere I’m sure, I think this year is definitely one geared towards something other than a cruise.  We’ll cruise again, maybe in a year or two, as it’s an experience unlike any other (and even with all the news about the cruises where everybody gets norovirus, neither of us are dissuaded from going on a cruise).  But this year?  I think it’s highly likely we’ll take on London – whether we pair it with Paris or elsewhere is the question.  I’d also love to go to Hawaii.  So we’ll see where fate takes us first.

But back to the post at hand!  Our second day in Barcelona and the last full one before flying back home awaits a recap.   To start, it was extraordinarily nice to just relax in our hotel room and sleep.  After the strenuous touring schedule of the day before, we didn’t have too much planned today.  The first objective this morning was something I’d not been to before, the Parc Guell.

Parc Guell

Antoni Gaudi (mastermind of the Sagrada Familia and many other architecturally significant structures in Barcelona) was also the designer of this massive public park in Barcelona.   It was originally supposed to be a housing development, but that fell through.  It’s a fortuitous turn of events as it’s a wonderful park for just strolling and for getting amazing views of Barcelona, as it’s set pretty high up on one of the hills on the north end of town.  Larry & I took the very nice Barcelona subway to get to the park and schlepped a good distance from the closest metro station – and of course, it’s not only a schlep but also a pretty severe uphill climb too.  Ah well, it’s worth it.  As you can see, there are lots of fantastical elements to the Parc, whether it’s the Alice in Wonderlandesque entry or the many organic constructions found throughout.  The famous Gaudi dragon awaits you at the entry area and also can be found on our refrigerator at home as a magnet.

After having our fill of public parks and near-death experiences on treacherous monuments (see the pics for more on that), we headed back to the subway (downhill walking, yay!) and made it back to the area where the Block of Discord is, which houses numerous crazy houses, namely Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and the Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera).  We were visiting Casa Batllo this day though!

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo

The Block of Discord area has apartment homes that have fantastical facades which seem out of a dream.  You can take a tour of the most crazy one, Casa Batllo.  I’ll let the pictures tell the story of what can be seen, as it really requires you to see it to believe it.  Let’s just say that the house feels alive.  There’s lots of playing with light and color as well throughout the house, which you get to explore by foot.  All 6 floors of it, even the roof.  It’s an amazing place to visit and I highly recommend it as a must-see if visiting Barcelona.

An Afternoon of Eating and Drinking

After our tour of the Casa Batllo, it was high time for some Las Ramblas lunchtime.  We found a place at the north end of the Ramblas that had an outdoor cafe with paella and sangria, which was quite enough to entice us to eat there.  It was delicious.  DELICIOUS.  Way too much as well, but it didn’t matter.  We were on vacation and it was Larry’s birthday, so why not?  It was a perfect way to get some rest, eat some good food, and people watch.  Once finished, we strolled the Ramblas back to our hotel, at which point we realized let’s just relax for the afternoon.  So we did, and headed up to the Hotel Espana’s rooftop bar for an afternoon session of getting shitfaced.  It was wonderful, as we had the rooftop to ourselves for quite a while, until other guests also got back from their travels and realized a drink on a beautiful day is a great idea.  After a while, it got pretty full and it was time for us to retire and get ready for our last evening in Barcelona.

A Better Evening of Barcelona Strolling and Tapas

Last night’s dinner activities left a lot to be desired.  Larry found a restaurant online that seemed to be more our speed so we kept that as a final destination, but endeavored to also explore the southern reaches of the Ramblas leading to the Barcelona harbor.  Along the way you can see the Columbus Circle of Barcelona before heading to the touristy pier area called Port Vell.  It was a wonderful way to spend the early evening as the sun went down, as many people were out and the temperature was just right.  Our stroll eventually led us back to the desired restaurant, Caramba, which was back north and to the west of our hotel.  We almost missed finding it, even with all the technology on hand.  It was a great little restaurant though, with plenty of food available in tapas plates and even though we over-indulged yet again, it was worth it and awesome.

As we waddled back to the hotel via the small streets west of the Ramblas, I got a call from American Airlines: our flight to Madrid from Barcelona had been cancelled. YIKES.  I’m thankful I answered the damn phone!  Fortunately, the airline rep was able to rebook us on a flight from Barcelona to Miami, then from Miami to Los Angeles.  A final bit of stress before leaving, but it was all okay in the end as the next day, we did get home without incident!  It was just a long day and of course, the jet lag is a bitch to get over!

Final Thoughts on the Whole Trip

Traveling for over 2 weeks can be exhausting and expensive.  With that in mind though, traveling for so long can provide a really exciting experience.  I admit that this year’s cruise wasn’t as fun as our first cruise, and I think it was for these reasons:

  • The weather in May 2013 proved to be a real crapshoot.  We got a ton of rain in some spots and that certainly dampened the experience.  Still had a blast though, as you always have to be militantly optimistic (MILOPTI!).  But still, it was rainy and kinda cold in May.  Contrasting this weather with our September 2011 cruise, I’d definitely choose the warmer/drier temps of September to travel in.
  • The crowd on the cruise ship in May was most certainly older than when we traveled in September.  Did we still manage to find people to hang out with though?  Of course!  When you hang out in the bar, you’ll likely find fun people.  Harriet & Doug, Melissa & Lacey, Dave, Christian and Chloe – they were lots of fun to get to know.  But I think those were all the youngish type people and Harriet & Doug made the cut because they were just a blast even if older.  Again, I think I’d try to find an August or September sailing where it’s likely to have younger folks on summer vacation.
  • Putting a stay in Barcelona after the cruise was a conscious decision we made to contrast our decision to do Rome before our 2011 cruise.  I know I was curious as to which experience I liked better, and I think, being completely honest, that spending time in the port city before the cruise worked best.  We could sleep off the jet lag in a hotel and not worry about being exhausted for a cruise ship excursion as we’d adjusted by then.  Also, after the cruise, both of us were really tired.  We had the energy of course to enjoy Barcelona, but there’s a feeling of finality to disembarkation that flying home just feels right with.  That may not make much sense, but in the future, I’m definitely leaning towards doing a stay in the port city before the cruise.

But overall, and as you may have seen in the previous cruise posts, we really have seen the hell out of most of the Northern Mediterranean ports, having hit Spain, France, a lot of Italy, Greece, and of course Turkey!  I highly recommend either of the itineraries (Eastern or Western Mediterranean) to anyone who’s going to cruise.  I think both Larry & my favorite areas are the Italian ports, as the food and scenery there is really spectacular.  That’s another trip idea for us in the future, just spending our time in various Italian cities, taking the train to move along….ah, that sounds freakin’ wonderful.  

So glad to have been able to come back to Barcelona after a 10-year gap.  It’s a very enjoyable and cosmopolitan city with a wondrous artistic and architectural heart.  It’d be easy to spend many more days there.

2013 Mediterranean Adventure Pics

Barcelona Awesomeness, Day 1 (Part 2)

May 29, 2013 – Day 1 in Barcelona (continued)

I knew this next part of the day would take up a lot of the remaining pictures so I figured, let’s just break up Day 1 into two, as I think the big money shot of the day is the Sagrada Familia, and who wants to have to deep-dive for it?

So as you may or may not have read about in the Day 1 – Part 1 post, we arrived in Barcelona after the end of the cruise and took a bus tour of the Eastern Half of the city as well as saw the Ramblas and settled into our swank lodgings at the Hotel Espana.  We had also booked a jump-the-line tour of the Sagrada Familia, the jewel of Barcelona’s artistic past and supreme tourist destination.  If you don’t do this kind of tour, you are going to wait in a long line.  Let me tell you, it’s completely worth the tour price to jump the line and get a bit of historical background on this insane construction.

The Sagrada Familia

So if you haven’t seen any specials on the Sagrada Familia such as the one 60 Minutes did in the spring of 2013, you may not be aware of the history of this structure.  I’ll link to the Wikipedia article on it so you can read as much as you want to about it, but briefly:

Antoni Gaudi is a Spanish artist / architect who had fanciful notions of what one could do with buildings and public spaces.  All over Barcelona, one can see his touch, whether it’s the Parc Guell (which we’d see the next day) and its fantastic and surreal landscape that is also a wonderful public park with the best views of the city, the Block of Discord where you can see his Casa Mila and Casa Batllo structures that just defy imagination, or the topic under discussion, the Sagrada Familia.  Barcelona was Gaudi’s playground and the city is all the better for it.

The crazy thing about the Sagrada Familia is that it isn’t finished.  Yet the construction started in 1882!  Gaudi had humongous ambitions when designing this ultimate Catholic cathedral and when finished (possibly in 2026 if current estimates hold), it will truly make a viewer gasp, whether it’s at the sheer size of the whole complex, the striking design and architecture, or the “gaudiness” of it.  When I was here with Jason and Wendy back in 2002, I don’t really remember the inside being as complete as it was during this visit, because the inside is as spectacular as the outside, with the beautiful tinted glass windows and the alien architecture.  It truly is a sight to behold.  I’d love to come back and see the completed structure in 2026, as that central and final tower with the bigger-than-life cross is going to be insane.  INSANE.

Oh, and here’s a video I took while inside:

The West Loop Tour

After marveling at the Sagrada Familia, we made our way back to the top of the Ramblas where the Bus Tour line originates their tours.  We were now going to do the West Loop tour!  This tour explores a bit of the area that I remember spending time in back in 2002, including the area of Montjuic, the Olympic stadium, the Royal Palace and the Magic Fountains (!!!), and then the Soccer/Football stadiums.  After that, it was a leisurely ride back through one of the main shopping streets and then back to where we started.   It had started to get colder though by this point and the wind from the ride was a little chilling.  It was very nice to be done with the tour, that’s for sure.

After that, we were done with doing touristic stuff and basically exhausted.  At this point, our adventurousness with regards to finding dinner was also severely reduced as we just wanted to find some good tapas.  We asked the hotel concierge to recommend a good place near the hotel, so of course he did chime in that the hotel restaurant was extremely good (which I believe it is, but we never found out), but we wanted something in the neighborhood.  He referred us to a place with some vague directions, and after getting kinda lost and bits of patience being chipped away at, we did find the recommended spot.  Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t the friendliest of joints and kinda trendy, while also a bit frustrating as there wasn’t the option to see an English menu.  I KNOW, stop being so American.  But c’mon….the restaurant was maybe 2 blocks from the Ramblas, the PRIME tourism heart of Barcelona.   Really, you’re not going to have even an option for an English menu?  So we were at the mercy of the waiters who did try and help, but the selections we made probably weren’t what we would have chosen if we could have understood the whole menu.  Not our finest moment.  But lesson learned.    After dinner, it was definitely time to sleep, which we happily did.

2013 Mediterranean Adventure Pics

The Unbelievable Beauty of Barcelona, Day 1 (Part 1)

May 29, 2013 – Day 1 in Barcelona

So while technically this is the next in line of the Med Cruise II pictures, the cruise was at this point ending!!!!  OH NOES!!!  Couldn’t complain about one thing and it was fantastic getting to experience the Western side of the Mediterranean versus the Eastern when we toured in 2011.  The overall feel of the cruise was slightly different this time than last time, as it felt like there weren’t nearly as many younger people to interact with compared to the first cruise, and the weather certainly was a frustrating factor at times.

Yet as a whole, the experience was amazing.  We did still meet quite a few fun and interesting people, from Doug & Harriet to our pal Dave to the random folks we’d meet at the bar or the casino that we’d see throughout afterwards.  I think we are done with going on Mediterranean Cruises for a while though, and in 2014, any trip is likely to be more focused on one or two cities that we stay in.  Tentative frontrunners are a London / France (Paris?  Somewhere in the south of France?) jaunt or maybe finally hitting up Hawaii.  From the fun we’ve had on these cruises though, it’s likely we’ll be back on one in the future.  I think what would make it a bit more fun is to go with some people we knew.  Anyway, the fact was, the cruise was over!

We had packed up our luggage the night before and left it outside, as they expedite things by moving that luggage out and placing it for collection in the port so you’re not clogging the pathways with luggage you probably can’t handle.  We had a late deportation time as we had no flight to catch and effectively had no time crunch hanging over us.  We were also getting back into Barcelona pretty early, meaning we likely weren’t going to be able to check into our hotel either.  So we first grabbed some breakfast in the cafe, during which time I got onto the Viator website on my phone and secured us a Jump-the-Line tour of the Sagrada Familia as I was NOT interested in waiting in a long ass line.  Fortunately, there was availability around 4pm that afternoon, so we had an itinerary forming as we sat there enjoying our wonderful last breakfast on the ship.

All good things must come to an end, and it was finally our turn to disembark.  That went fairly easy, and we even got to see our girls Melissa and Lacey in the really long taxi line at the port, exchanging contact info before saying goodbye.  Thankfully the taxis are pretty good and not shady, and our destination wasn’t very far from the port, as we picked the Hotel Espana, a very nice hotel about a block off the Ramblas.

The taxi got us as close as possible that morning, which was a block away from the hotel as the hotel faces onto a small little walking street.  Unfortunately, our room was nowhere near ready so while we were able to leave our luggage, we couldn’t stay.  But that wasn’t a problem!  Since Hotel Espana is right off the Ramblas (the very well-known main pedestrian plaza / strip in Barcelona), we meandered over there and took in the crazy scene.  As I remembered from before, the Ramblas is like the 3rd Street Promenade but WAY bigger and WAY more crowded.  Still full of the same kinds of things though, with endless tourists, souvenir stands, restaurants, and shops.  It’s a can’t-miss thing to see.

After exploring a pretty neat marketplace called the La Boqueria, the Ramblas’ sights and a store that looked like a Crate & Barrel, we decided to do the Big Bus Tours that you can hop on and off and which take you all around the city.  These are great ways to get your bearings and to at least see things that you likely wouldn’t get to on your own. Barcelona is a fairly spread-out city and the tour company had two routes, one covering the East half and one covering the West half.  We bought a ticket that allowed us to go on both, and we basically planned it so that we’d do the East Loop first, get some lunch, check in to the hotel, head to the Sagrada Familia for our tour, then do the West Loop tour.   You know what?  We did exactly that!

The East Loop Barcelona Tour

So the East Loop Tour starts at the north end of the Ramblas, which is where we picked it up.  You then head south to the shore, upon which you then go east along the beach, passing gorgeous shorelines and since it was sunny, it really was wonderful.  You can see the Olympic village area from 1992, as well as some of the delightful modern architecture that’s sprung up in the city.  At a certain point, you then turn back northwest and head into the heart of the city, eventually driving by the jewel, the Sagrada Familia, envisioned by Antoni Gaudi.  Larry & I didn’t get out at this point, as our tour was for later, but to drive by it is a great way to whet the appetite.  It really is a jaw-dropping structure.  More on that in a little bit when I bombard with you pics from the tour.   The rest of the tour is nice as well but it’s really just a nice way to spend some time driving through the gorgeous environs of Barcelona.  Eventually you head back towards the main strip that happens to also take you by many of Antoni Gaudi’s other architectural contributions to the city such as La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.  We visited Casa Batllo the next day, so you’ll see more pictures from that gorgeous house soon.  Gaudi’s work has to be seen to be believed, but it’s undeniably compelling.

Ramblas Lunch and Hotel Espana

Since the tour was a loop, we were right back where we started.  We weren’t sure where to grab lunch though, so as we meandered back through the Ramblas, we did try to find a place that seemed to be not at all where it was supposed to.  We did finally find a place that looked like it would be fine and we ended up having a fantastic meat and cheese platter with sangria that was just exactly what the doctor ordered.  THEN, we checked into the hotel.

HOLY COW.  The Hotel Espana was definitely a very nice way to spend a visit in Barcelona.  It’s a gorgeously restored hotel built in the 1850s with a very modern flair.  We had a room on the top floor (reserved especially because I was like, let’s just do this right) of this 4-Star hotel and the room was splendid and the view from our open-air balcony was wonderful.  It was such a relief to just have a base of operations again and to relax for a little bit.

The day was not over – not by a long shot!  But I think I’ll have to break this post up as it’s gotten ridiculously long!  Up next?  The amazing Sagrada Familia and the West Loop tour.

2013 Mediterranean Adventure Pics

Med Cruise II: Last 2 Days at Sea

I’m grouping these last two days together as they were kind of a long big blur of a time – a good time, but it was really just the ship heading back from Kotor all the way to Barcelona, so occasionally you’d see some neat stuff from the ship, but mostly it was ways to combat boredom.  That usually involved drinking.  🙂

May 27, 2013 – Day 2 at Sea

So now it’s Day 12 – Day at Sea II, and it’s been very relaxing. Had a late start, got some breakfast, then went up top for a few hours on the Solstice Deck for some sun as Dave had said that’s where he’d be and it was rarely crowded. He was there, and for a while it wasn’t crowded, but it certainly did get that way. Had a few drinks and a burger for a snack then finally it’s now where I realized I need to type up the last few days before it gets too long to remember everything. We have reservations at Murano tonight and I am excited as to what we will have. Hopefully we’ll hang out with Dave some more and just have another great day tomorrow before docking in Barcelona the following.

This was also the evening when we got to see “Equinox: The Show” – in which we got to view what the entire showroom and stage was built for, as it is pretty ornate and you don’t know why until this show.  Think Cirque du Soleil but obviously not THAT insane.  But still, lots of cool little artistic acts, whether it’s dancing and singing or crazy feats of strength and acrobatics.  Pretty neat to be honest.

May 28, 2013 – Day 3 at Sea

Ruh roh, I’m now at the point where I stopped writing in my journal!  Well, time to fire up the ol’ memory banks and bug Larry to see if he remembered what we did that day!   I can report that the night before’s dinner at Murano was fabulous, and this time there was no mortifying comments likely overheard by their subjects nor a food reaction.  It was just wonderful.

The next day though was a bit of a comedown from the highs of yesterday, as instead of the wonderful sun, it was kind of dreary.  Glad we did a pool day yesterday!  We ended up just kind of wandering the boat for the first part, getting some coffee, looking at lifeboats…yeah, it was pretty slow.  I think we did also manage to get some more gambling in (that would be me – I think I spent a LOT of time at the blackjack table) before we had a last dinner with Dave and then it was time to pack and get ready for the next chapter of the trip the next day: Barcelona!!!!

2013 Mediterranean Adventure Pics

Med Cruise II: Surprising Kotor

Surprise!  Okay, maybe there wasn’t truly a moment where either Larry or I jumped out and surprised Kotor.  But this city in Montenegro was quite a beautiful surprise and I won’t be surprised to see its popularity grow due to its natural beauty.

May 26, 2012 – Kotor, Montenegro

On Day 11, it was our last port of call, Kotor in Montenegro. And of course, the forecast was for 90% rain. And sure enough, the forecast didn’t disappoint. I think we were close to saying screw it, but we decided that since we hadn’t ever been there before, let’s just do that. But it still was nightmarish, as we got out there and once on the bus, the thunder and lightning flared up followed shortly by hail. Ugh. The tour was “Baroque Delicacies” and part of it involved taking a quick boat trip to this tiny island in the fjord area where a church was. The entire ride there was drenched in rain. But once we got to the island, the rain actually stopped. Yet again, the rain stopped when it needed to. After that point, we didn’t get anymore rain in Montenegro, and it was awesome. Ridiculously gorgeous too. Got to see that island, the town of Perast, and finally a walking tour of the old city of Kotor. Ridiculous scenery, and lots of hotness too. Very nice. It was a nice way to end our touristic section of the cruise, as after that, it’s just two days at sea then we are back in Barcelona.

That evening, we had made plans to have dinner with Dave in the Silhouette Dining Room. Turns out he hasn’t eaten there yet as he’s by himself so he just ate at the dining hall. No gracias. We had a good time talking with him and we all went to the show afterwards, which was a wonderful female singer who is engaged to the magician from the night before. After that was some time in the casino, where finally someone was able to throw the dice for a long time, and I made some money. Lost it all though once that guy sevened out and no one else could throw worth a damn. Saw Harriet & Doug again too and I just love them so much. Such nice people. Then the three of us went to the Sky Bar for 70s night, and in the course of the evening there, I confirmed with Dave that he’s on our team. It’s nice to know that and makes the conversations a lot more specific. Plus, everyone was wanting to know. Trust me.

Arrival in Montenegro

Baroque Delicacies Excursion:  Perast and the Islands