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Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Trip Home.....minus our luggage

The Trip Home.......minus our luggage
MA & the Invisible Man

Our journey home started at 6AM Saturday morning, Barcelona time.  That's 11PM Friday night here in Texas.  We gathered our bags, got them downstairs, had a quick breakfast and caught the 7:45AM hotel shuttle to the airport.  We were booked on Continental scheduled to depart at 10:45.  The lines at the airport were long as we waited to check our two bags and pass through security.  Something to note, you don't have to remove your shoes in Europe when going through the security checks.  We had time to grab some coffee upstairs before boarding. 

The Continental flight from Barcelona to Newark was on a Boeing 757, our least favorite of Continental's fleet. We paid extra for the bulkhead row because the seats in this airplane are so close and passengers are so crowded that any extra room is a luxury. 

As the doors closed and we settled in, the pilot announced that we had missed our takeoff slot and that we would be put back into the lottery for takeoff assignments.  Our new takeoff time was now 12:05 PM and we would be sitting on the airplane at the gate for at least an hour.  Immediately we realized we would miss our connection from Newark to Houston.

The flight across Spain and the Atlantic was uneventful.  To kill the time I watched some classic movies:  Dr. Strangelove and Casablanca.  We arrived in Newark and got through passport control.  Our bags were the last to be taken off the plane and we gathered them and went through customs and right back to Continental check-in to see what the next available the flight to Houston would be.  It was to leave in 45 minutes and we hustled back through security and were the last to board, this time on a Boeing 777, a beautiful airplane with leg room too.

We had MA's cell phone but the battery was out of juice and we couldn't call Susan about our flight changes.  A Continental Captain noticed our plight and was kind enough to loan us his. 

Finally, we got off the plane in IAH, 20 hours after that quick breakfast in Barcelona (!) and got down to Baggage Claim.  After waiting until all the bags had dropped down on the conveyor belt it became painfully obvious our bags did not make the flight.  I filed a claim with Continental, who promised prompt delivery.

We were very happy to see Susan and Jacob.  Jacob had great news about the St. Mark soccer team.  They are undefeated and won a tournament while we were gone.  Both of us thought Jacob grew at least an inch during the time we were gone.

We got home, dropped our carry-on bags on the floor and called it a night.  I vaguely heard the phone ring around 1:30 in the morning and it was a Fedex delivery with our bags.  I went out to the gate and let him in.  I think I was asleep when all this happened because both bags were in the garage when I got up this morning.

MA and I went to church this morning to worship our Lord and give thanks for His protection and safe travel.  It was especially good to see Dr. Young back in the pulpit after months of recovery from open heart surgery.  His new series is on 1st John, a small book in the New Testament with a powerful message.  It answers the question, "What is God like?"  We gave HIM thanks for all that He has done for us.

We ran into MA's Bible study co-teacher, Paul Bice.  MA asked for her "job back"!  He seemed glad to see us both!

As I look back on our travels surely we have seen some remarkable historical sights and some of the great beauty of this world. But most of all we met some wonderful folks along the way.  Truly God has made a beautiful world for all to appreciate and enjoy.

Houston! The Wendels are glad to be home!

MA & WW in Eze over looking Monaco

Friday, October 1, 2010

Last Day in Barcelona....going home tomorrow

Friday....last day in Barcelona

We had one more day in Barcelona and decide to make the most of it going back downtown to see the Gaudi museum.  We caught the 165 bus to Plaza Espanya, the L-1 subway to Catalunya and the northbound L-3 subway to the museum.  My little compass comes in handy to tell what direction is what when your're in a strange place.  We found the museum, bought tickets and went through thiis wonderfully creative architectural creation.  This guy is revered in Spain and especally Barcelona.  You can see his creative genius and imagination in the photos we'll post later..

After the museum we found an empty sidewalk bench and had lunch, ham and cheese sandwiches MA made that were left over from our breakfast buffet.  We then decided to go back to the La Rambla and watch some more "human statues" come to life.  We stopped for a cold drink and went to pay only to find out it was "cash only" and we had no Euros.  Finally convinced the waiter to take dollars. Don't take your ATM card to Europe, doesn't work here that we can tell. Late in the afternoon we reversed our trip; L-1 to Catalunya and 165 bus to the hotel.  We're starting to feel like natives!

This has been a magnificent and memorable trip for us but there's nothing like home, family and dear friends and we look forward to all after our arrive Saturday evening. We want to thank Paul Bice for stepping up to the plate one more time and teaching our Bible Study class for MA.   And thanks for reading the travel blog.  We have a lot of fun doing it but think we'll stay home for a while, except for a long weekend in Chicago late this month to catch up with Jim and Sue and the grandkids.

Later!  WW

Barcelona subway

Stuck in Barcelona Day 2

Stuck in Barcelona: Day 2

MA and I decided to make the most of our delay in Barcelona so we started checking out ways to get to the central part of the city from the Airport Marriott. The hotel has a shuttle that would take us part of the way, but we had missed the morning run. A very helpful concierge here carefully showed us how to get the local bus to the Plaça Espanya and then transfer onto the L-1 subway to the Plaza de Catalunya, the central hub for everything we wanted to do.

So we started our day on the #165 bus made by Mercedes-Benz. It made various stops before getting on the “freeway” to downtown and after 30 minutes we arrived to the transfer point for the Metro station and the L-1 subway. We found a T-10 ticket dispenser (ten rides) and purchased a ticket with enabled both of us to ride for 5 times, bus or subway. Following the signs, we found the L-1 and hopped on. Ten minutes later we arrived at Catalunya and rode the escalator up to street level. This huge plaza is the heart of Barcelona with major streets extending outward from it.

We decided to revisit the fascinating La Rambla, a huge pedestrian street about a mile in length leading to the waterfront. It is lined with cafes, newsstands, artists, flower shops, and performing artists. We had a ball watching the human statues come to life when someone drops a coin in their bucket and the reactions of the people watching them perform. I got some really great photos of these strange performers and I will share them with you at a later date.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Montserrat & a Waltz down the La Rambla

Tram to the Top

Montserrat & a Waltz down the La Rambla

This is Tuesday and we took a trip to Montserrat by train. We had already found out where to catch the train. So after breakfast we grabbed cameras, turned in the hotel key, and headed out the door to flag a taxi to the station. The cab showed up and we were on our way to the Plaza d’ Espanya. MA engaged the cab drive in some high level Spanish and learned that he was staying home on Wednesday in support of the General Strike throughout Spain. More on this later. We arrived in plenty of time to catch the 9:30 am train to Montserrat.

Montserrat, which means “serrated mountain”, is the location of the Monastery of Montserrat. The Monastery is surrounded by hermit caves, chapels, and jagged rocks which give it its name. It has a basilica, a museum, and is home to hundreds of Benedictine monks. It dates back to 9th Century, expanded in the 11th Century, attacked by the French in 1811 and rebuilt in 1844.
Basilica Facade

Interior of the Basilica

After about an hour and ten minutes train ride during which MA and a couple from Brazil engaged in a lively conversation in Portuguese, the train stopped below the Monastery and we boarded a tram which took us high up to the top of the mountain, 4055 ft above sea level. The view was awesome. We stopped in the cafeteria and had coffee and walked into the Basilica. The monks surely built a “one of a kind” place of worship.

Soon it was time to head back to Barcelona so we took the tram down to the train station. It was lunch time so we opened our ham and cheese sandwiches and had a lunch while we waited for the train. The ride back was a little confusing because the train we boarded didn’t go all the way to Barcelona. MA had made friends with a young Spanish woman, Noemí who showed us how to transfer to another train at a designated station. It is sure handy having a quad-linguist wife!

La Rambla

Our plan was to ride the train back to our starting place and use the remaining day on our Touristic Bus ticket and get off at the Old Quarter and go through the city museum. Instead we hopped off and started up the historic and famous “La Rambla”. This pedestrian walkway stretches from the big Plaça de Catalunya to the Mediterranean.

It is filled with souvenir shops, flower stalls, mime artists, musicians, dancers, newsstands, and cafes, tourists, natives, and don’t forget the pickpockets. MA and I sat down at a café and watched a mime dressed as a fruit tree come to life whenever someone dropped a coin in his cup. He would suddenly grab a wreath of artificial fruit and loop it over the payee’s head along with a hat of artificial fruit until someone took a photo.

We saw some strange people on this walk but the biggest surprise was finding a huge open-air market with all kinds of fruit, nuts, meats, spices, flowers, etc along the walk. I can’t wait to edit those photos. At the end of the walk we boarded our open air bus and made our way back to the hotel.

Stuck in Barcelona

The Spanish are going on a “General Strike” tomorrow, 29 September and we were holding our breath hoping our flight would not be affected. It is.  We were notified by Continental that our flight was cancelled and they rescheduled us for Saturday. No problem. MA got on the computer and got us a room at an airport hotel so we won’t be sleeping on waiting chairs. We are just going to make the best of it and fly home Saturday. We stopped at the local mini-market and loaded up on bottled water and snacks and checked our trip interruption insurance to see what they are going to pay! This means we will regrettably miss our Bible Study class for one more Saturday and MA sent out an SOS to the ladies that Friday night Bible Study is also cancelled.

So, hasta la vista you-all! Later! WW

Some more pictures:

Barcelona by Bus (2 Days in the Catalonian Capitol)

Barcelona-Day 1

Barcelona by Tour Bus from the Ship

The Ruby Princess docked for the last time (Sunday) here in Barcelona, Spain. We decided to spend three additional days here so we could see some of the city without rushing. We had arranged to go on a tour from the ship to get an idea of how the city was laid out. Our luggage was carried off last night and it was waiting for us as we departed the ship. We grabbed our bags, rolled them to the bus and hopped aboard.

Our tour would take us through some of the highlights of Barcelona; Sagrada Familia church, Old Gothic Quarter, Barcelona cathedral, and other sites. This was Sunday and there were hundreds of people around the cathedral watching Spanish folk dances. The tour ended at a square where we caught a cab to the Hotel Antibes, located in the center of the city. We unpacked, had a pizza for dinner and called it a night.

Day-2 (Monday)

Barcelona by Open-Air Bus; Hop-on-Hop-off

MA and I had decided to see Barcelona by the open air buses that weave through the city stopping at all the highlights. The run about every twenty minutes and you “hop on, hop off” at whatever stop suits your fancy. We were up early, and out the hotel door at 8:00. We walked the four blocks to the huge Gaudi church called La Sagrada Familia and found the Bus stop. We purchased two-day tickets.

We took a little time for more photographs of this huge church that truly is THE landmark of Barcelona. It was begun in 1883 by architect Antoni Gaudi and it’s still under construction. It would take me much longer to describe everything to you but just let me say it is unbelievable, awesome, symbolic in Christian faith, and will still not be completed for another 30-40 years. The towers are over 400 feet high. The interior is so massive it you can’t believe human beings could build something like this. The photos don’t do it justice. I took plenty and will dedicate an entire gallery to just this church.

It was finally time to start the bus ride so we hopped aboard the Blue Line which serves the north and west part of Barcelona. After touring the northern part of the city we headed by to the central district. Our first bus transfer was at the Plaza de Catalunya, the central plaza of Barcelona. We jumped aboard the Red Line for two stops and got off to walk into the old Gothic Barri (Quarter). It was lunch time so we got two cold drinks at a café and opened our “sack lunch” and had our ham and cheese sandwiches which we had made at the hotel breakfast.

After lunch we walked around the old quarter, tried to get in a museum but most were closed on Monday. We hopped back on the Red Line bus, found some empty seats on the top and enjoyed the view from the upper deck. We hopped off again at the Plaza d Espanha to purchase two rail tickets for a trip to Montserrat Tuesday and check out the rail station where we need to be on Tuesday.

Back on the bus and rode it to the top of the hill of Montjuic which rises to 700 feet above the streets. The National Palace, which is now a museum, dominates the architecture of the district. From this landmark you can see the whole skyline of Barcelona. I took some photos and we hopped back on to back to the Sagrada Familia church where we hopped off. We decided to have dinner and it was a choice between McDonald’s and the Luctuca Restaurant-Buffet. We chose the buffet. The food was good, kind of like Sweet Tomato and topped off with a small ice cream cup and decaf espresso.

Back at the hotel, the prayers for our return kicked in when the hotel clerk offered to hook us up with his cousin who works the night shift and would probably be interested in driving us to the airport Wednesday. Given that the local transportation will be on strike, it was a welcomed suggestion. I later met up with Alex and we’re all set to at least get to the Continental counter tomorrow. We’re watching the flights and if our inbound aircraft takes off from New York for Barcelona we might be OK after all.

I then decided to walk back to the church and take some night photos. On the way back about a block from the front door, I was approached by a stranger wanting to know directions to the subway. I immediately recognized him as a “thief” and held my tripod up pointing it at him. He then asked me if I had a map and I replied no and told him to take a hike. About that time two plainclothes police officers walked up, identified themselves and asked the guy for his ID and asked me for my passport. I pulled out my police ID and showed it to the cops and they smiled. I thought the crook was going to choke. The cops him to take a hike and not to be accosting tourists He quickly walked off. The cops had a big laugh and told me to be careful.

Off to Montserrat on the train (Tuesday). Thanks for all the comments and the prayers! WW & MA

Christopher Columbus Monument

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Monte Carlo & Eze

Saturday: Monte Carlo and the Medieval Village of Eze, France

Setting Full Moon Over Monaco

The Ruby Princess anchored in the bay just outside of Monte Carlo in the Principality of Monaco on Saturday morning. There were numerous huge yachts anchored in the bay because of a yacht show that was going on for the high rollers. But of course our “yacht” was much bigger!

Monte Carlo from the Promanade Deck

The ship uses tenders (powered-lifeboats) to get passengers to and from shore when it cannot dock. We were up and at ‘em early as our tour left at 8:30 for the medieval French village of Eze. We jumped on a tender and headed to the dock in Monte Carlo. I can’t recall seeing so many huge multi-million $$$ yachts in one place in my life.

We made our way to a luxury motor coach and drove out of Monaco on the same streets that the Grand Prix racers use in May each year.

Eze church
 Eze has its origins in the Middle Ages and is perched on the top of a mountain 1500 feet above sea level not far from Monaco. The tour bus left the harbor of Monte Carlo and followed a winding, twisting road that carried us up to the village. We had an option of staying with the guide or meeting him at the top of village to get into the upper gardens. I chose to take off and look for photographic subjects. I’d rather seek out my own interesting and wonderful subjects so off I went to explore Eze. I met up with MA about an hour later and we found our group. We then entered an unusual cactus garden high on the top of the hill with a helicopter-type view of Monte Carlo.

After some photo ops up there we started back down and stopped in a small café at the bottom of the mountain. There were two French gendarmes having coffee inside, so I went in and introduced myself. They were happy to meet me and on the way out stopped at our table. MA practiced her French with them. They were very nice to us and I must say a true credit to cops everywhere.

Monte Carlo from Eze
We boarded the bus for the downhill ride back to the ship. As we arrived back at dock there were hundreds of people waiting to get back onboard. But the tenders moved fast and soon we were on board and motoring back to the Ruby Princess.

Last night was it for our time on this ship so we finished packing our bags, put on the color coded tags for our next-day Barcelona tour and placed them outside the door. At dinner we said good bye to our new friends from New York, Long Island, Nashville, Tennessee, and Manchester, England.

The plan for today (Sunday) was to do a five-hour city bus tour to help get us oriented and then taxi to the hotel. One of the things I’ll write about later is the awesome Sagrada Familia cathedral. You just can’t imagine this historic place designed by Gaudi. I wanted to get as much photography in as possible so after a while, MA went outside and started looking around to see if she could spot any pickpockets. She did and two unaware ladies were very grateful to her alerting them that they were being targeted. She showed me the guy later, I think she was on to something.

It’s been a wonderful cruise and I’ve taken some photos I’m really happy with and will send you the link to later. Adios, amigo. WW

I did not get this as a souvenir, but thought it was funny.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Pisa, from the Italian port of Livorno

The Ruby Princess docked early Friday in Livorno, the second largest port in Italy. It is a jumping off place for the tourist attractions of Florence and Pisa. MA and I chose to go to Pisa today with a group tour and had the morning free to start packing for Sunday’s disembarkation in Barcelona. We met the tour group at 12:30 and we were off the ship and in the bus by 1:00 pm headed north and east from Livorno. Our tour guide was a friendly Italian by the name of David.

We arrived near the “Field of Miracles” and parked in the tourist bus area about a half mile from the Cathedral, Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is a bell tower, and the Baptistry. I had seen Pisa in 1968 with my Air Force roommate, Bill Muzenski, and remembered it very well. MA had never seen it and she was quite amazed about how it really does lean to the south and the beautiful marble it is made from. We walked around, took photos, and entered the Cathedral where my D3s was able to capture the enormous beauty inside. The tour lasted about 4 hours and as we were walking back to the bus we got separated from the group by a pair of railroad crossing arms and we had stay behind until the train came and went. The Princess ship’s escort waited anxiously on the other side for us! We boarded the ship and set sail toward Monaco in the night.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tarquinia & Etruscan Countryside

Tarquinia & Etruscan Countryside

We docked early at the port city of Civitavecchia that serves Rome and surrounding areas. The weather could not be better: low humidity and temperatures in the 70’s. After breakfast we got ready for a tour of the medieval Italian town of Tarquinia, located about 30 miles away.

Our guide today was Michele or Mickey as he said. He was a no-nonsense Italian guy with a shaved head. We were dropped off in the medieval town of Tarquinia and I took off to take photos of the town and people while Ma set out to find out about a pending general strike in Barcelona on the day we are supposed to fly out, September 29th. After using three languages she managed to get an international calling card, figure out how to use it, go into a hotel and use their internet to get an Italian phone number for Continental, get them on the line only to be told they have not made any provisions yet for the strike, in fact the agent knew nothing about it.

I had better luck, meeting a couple of local cops and saying hello. They seemed to appreciate the gesture. The rest of the morning was spent in a “Gelateria” where we watched an Italian signora make Italian ice cream called Gelato and we were given generous samples. It was good, but I still prefer Blue Bell. Tomorrow: Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Naples & the Amalfi Coast

Naples & the Amalfi Coast

When the moon hits your eye, that’s a big a pizza pie, that’s amore….

The Ruby Princess left Mykonos Island in Greece and sailed west from the Aegean Sea into the Mediterranean Sea, then north into the Ionian Sea, crossing the Straits of Messina between Sicily and Italy and on into the Tyrrhenian Sea. This was a day at sea and the next morning we docked at Naples, Italy on the west side of southern Italy.

Naples is where the ancient Roman city of Pompeii was discovered. Pompeii was destroyed by the Mt. Vesuvius volcano in 79 A.D. We did not go to Pompeii as both of us were tired of looking at ruins so we chose a tour of Sorrento and boat ride down the the Amalfi Coast with time in the small village of Amalfi. It was a great choice.

We were in Brown #1 and at 8:00 am we made our way off the ship and onto the bus. These buses are nice. Most are Mercedes-Benz brand and very comfortable. Our tour guide for the day was a young Italian woman by the name of Roberta. She spoke English with a heavy Italian accent but her vocabulary was great and we understood most of what she was saying. After about an hour riding on a narrow and steep mountain two-lane "highway we arrived at the coastal town of Sorrento.

In Sorrento we had an hour and a half to explore on our own (my perference too btw) and then meet up with the tour group at 11:00 am. MA and walked around this old city with winding narrow streets. I asked a lady at a fruit stand if I could take her picture and she said yes and then fluffed her hair and I took her photo. The lady then handed MA with a giant lemon as a gift. We said “Grazie” and continued our walk. Next I spotted a lady hanging out her laundry on a second story window sill and I asked her if I could take her photo. She stuck her head out the window and smiled. It took me under five seconds for the D3s to click that photo. We stopped and had coffee at the Coffee Shop Sorrento and continued our sojourn.

We met our group back at the square and were escorted to unch to at a nice Italian restaurant. Joining us was Ken, the ship's ports of call narrator. Ken is retired from teaching at a university in England and really knows world history. Our other lunch companion was Harley, retired FBI, from Seattle, WA. Lunch was typical Italian fare and very enjoyable.

The second part of our tour was a boat ride from Sorrento up the Amalfi coast to the town of Positano. Two busloads boarded the tour boat and we headed north along the Amalfi coastline which is dotted with watch towers. During medieval times the watch towera were used to warn people of invading Turk pirates. The coast is dotted with small villages perched on hilltops or in coves on beaches.

After an hour or so the boat docked at Positano, a medieval Italian village. Our guide took us to the town square dominated by a very old cathedral. We were on our own for two hours. We walked around and MA sat down below the steps of the huge cathedral to people watch and I went inside. Magnificent. It reminded me of St. Peter’s in Rome. The photo of the interior I will post in a gallery later. I found MA outside or should say she found me and we met our group back at the town square and walked back to the tour boat with dripping cones of gelato ice cream.

Amalfi Cathedral
On the ride back to Sorrento MA was trying to photograph a handsome Italian sailor. She said it was for her single friends. Yea, right. I was in the bow of the bow and watching all of this go down. The handsome Italian grabbed MA’s camera, sat down very close to her, gave the camera to someone and asked them to take a photo. I told MA I saw it all and reminded her that we were not taking any such Italians home as souvenirs. The day was really pleasant, temperatures in the 70’s no humidity, no wind.
Back aboard ship I got ready for the full moon rise at 6:46 pm. I positioned myself on the stern of the ship with my camera mounted on my travel tripod. The moon rose and reached a perfect height around 7:30 pm. As the old song says,” When the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” I call this photo Moon Rise Over Mt. Vesuvius.