June 24, 2007

Kim's Mediterranean Cruise Part 1

(Spain and the French Riviera)
Flight across the Atlantic

Flying first class is heaven! Mary Beth, Nancy and I couldn’t stop oohing and aahing over the seats in first class. They were fully reclinable with the push of a button and had different adjustments for the legs and back. I had feelings of being in a hospital bed and not being able to move my legs. Each seat also received a blanket, a full size pillow, and a goody bag full of socks, tissues, chap stick, ear plugs, an eye mask and on and on. The three of us couldn’t get over the spaciousness. The food was non-stop and very tasty. Each seat had its own TV with many choices of movies, TV shows and music. Despite all the distraction, most of what we did was sleep the night away.

The control panel for the first class seats.

We arrived at The Hotel Claris in Barcelona sometime the next morning. We discovered right away that things are smaller in Europe. Cars are much smaller than in the U.S. and at least half the traffic was motor scooters or motorcycles. The way the motor scooters weaseled themselves in between all the cars was amusing – at first. Of course our taxi was smaller than most in the U.S. also and our luggage almost didn’t fit into the trunk.

The Claris (http://www.hotelclaris.com/ ) is considered a boutique hotel. It is set in the heart of Barcelona inside a renovated palace. The luggage boys seemed amused (or amazed) that 3 women would be traveling by themselves. We were given warnings about pickpockets. We get on the elevator to go to our fourth floor room. What a surprise when the door opened! It didn’t look like all of us would be able to fit inside such a tiny place. Three or four people in one of these elevators is all they can hold.

When we got to our suite, we were surprised to see that the 2 beds were just large twins and were put right next to each other. There wasn’t much room between the furniture and the walls. Yet, with the tightness of the space, this was supposed to be a luxury suite in a luxury hotel. Just one of the many lessons learned in the size of things in America.

We spent the better part of 2 days just trying to figure out where we were. We would walk somewhere and end up walking in circles. Or we’d walk somewhere only to discover that we were going in the opposite direction from where we were supposed to go. I was in charge of navigation with only a simple street map to help me out. I didn’t realize I need to have my compass with me also. I couldn’t figure out why we get getting turned around in directions I didn’t want to take us. The joke for the city of Barcelona was – “Just two more blocks” to get wherever it was we were going.

We ate many good meals at sidewalk cafes. Meals in Barcelona are much smaller than the U.S. also. Yet, even though they were smaller they were very satisfying and filling. We didn’t see any overweight people while we were in Spain. One thing that helped make the meals satisfying, was the “to die for” gelato (ice cream) that was for sale on every block. I don’t know what it is they do when they make it to give it such good flavor. Our favorite café – No No’s seemed to delight in serving food in an artistic way. Take a look at the mozzarella salad and the pasta sculpture on top. Eating at these sidewalk cafes was a delightful way to pass away a few hours of the day.

The architecture and sculpture of Barcelona was amazing to say the least. We saw buildings that were built in the mid-evil times all the way through to modern styled structures of the present. Everywhere you turned you could see that artistic thought was put into it.

Les Rambles

Les Rambles is the most famous street in Barcelona. This is a crowded, tree lined street that is very popular with tourists. The street is packed with people selling flowers, small pets and other goods. The interesting entertainment of living statues, mimes, musicians and artists makes is a very enjoyable walk. The wide boulevard connects the Placa de Catalunya, a busy square, to the Monument a Colum, a tall column erected in honor of Christopher Columbus.

Next to Les Rambles is a huge market that sells all kinds of food – fruit, vegetables, meat, candy and goat heads???

Barri Gotic

The Barri Gotic (the Gothic district) contains a concentration of medieval Gothic buildings only a few blocks northeast of Les Rambles, and is the nucleus of old Barcelona. It's a maze of interconnecting dark streets linking with squares. Most of the buildings date from the 14th and 15th century, when Barcelona was at the height of its commercial prosperity Around the Cathedral, one of Spain's greatest Gothic buildings, you can still see part of the ancient walls incorporated into later structures.

Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece is one of Barcelona’s most important landmarks. Construction on this church was started in 1882 and will continue at least until 2014. Gaudi died in 1926 before his masterwork was completed and since then, controversy has continually dogged the building program. Some say the shell should have been left as a monument to the architect but the chief architect today argues that the task is a sacred one. He believes it is a church intended to atone for sin and appeal for God’s mercy on Catalunya. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful work of art.

The Cruise

The French Riviera
We left Barcelona on a Saturday to board our cruise ship - The Voyager of the Seas. The ship held over 3,000 people and was one of the largest cruise ships when it was built. It contains a rock wall, skating rink, swimming pools and more. Our suite was on the top deck of rooms and had a fantastic balcony and window view. I can honestly say that our suite was nicer AND bigger than the house I'm living in now. It would have been easy to live there for an extended period of time.

The French Riviera ended up being my favorite place the whole trip. Our port of call was Villefranche. We took a tender (boat) off the ship, boarded a tour bus with our tour guide Angelique. We drove almost an hour to the towns of Nice and Cannes. It was the only cloudy, rainy day of the whole trip.

We were set loose by our tourguide in the midevil center of the town of Nice. Like most of the cities we visited, the old part of the city was surrounded by high walls. This was how cities protected themselves in midevil times. Since it was Sunday, we were told that most of the shops would be closed but it was market day. The market was packed with local people buying their food. What a way to shop! It would be so nice to be able to buy food like this all the time. The fruit and vegetables always looked so good. Also for sale were flowers, candy, pastries, meat, spices and soaps. We ate lunch at a sidewalk cafe next to this market.

After an encounter with the town drunk while waiting for the tour bus to arrive, we boarded the bus and headed west to the city of Cannes. Besides being the home of the International Film Festival every year, it is home to movie stars, expensive shops, fancy hotels and one of the most charming places we visited. Again, since it was Sunday, most everything was closed. We walked around the building where the film festival is held and saw the handprints in the sidewalk, walked around an art market, watched botchiball being played, watched a sand sculpture, and walked along the boat harbour filled with expensive yachts.

Perhaps my favorite part of this whole city is when I took off by myself to explore some of the side streets in the old part of the city. I started down a narrow street and soon found it was lined on both sides with very small cafes. Some had only 5 tables in the whole place. I took a turn on another street and came upon some flower displays. I walked further and found more displays. Before I knew it I was at the top of the hill above the city where the cathedral was and more flower displays. After talking with the tour guide, I learned there was some kind of flower festival happening.

Below is the view of the city of Nice on our way back to the ship. Despite the rain, this was a very enjoyable day.

The rest of my trip will be in the makings. Check back often to see if I've updated this section...

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