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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Barcelona: A Roll Down the Las Ramblas and a Quick Visit to Gaudi's Casa Botlló

Barcelona Skyline
Barcelona:  A Roll Down the Las Ramblas and a Quick Visit to Gaudi's Casa Botlló

The Emerald Princess docked in Barcelona, Spain about 11am this morning.  Mary Alice started her day with a hair appointment at the ship's salon, Lotus Spa.  She looks fabulous.  She says her hair never looked better. 
We returned to the room and started packing for the trip home.  We then decided to go into Barcelona for the afternoon, down the Las Ramblas (1km) pedestrian mall and I wanted to see  Gaudi's Casa Botlló.  We bought two shuttle bus tickets and headed off to Barcelona's World Trade Center.  From there I began pushing Mary Alice's wheelchair across the streets, down the sidewalks, past Columbus pointing to the New World and arriving at the Las Ramblas.
Las Ramblas
Right away we ran across a couple of human statues, people dressed up and representing someone or some fiction character.  We watched "Columbus" entertain three kids as they mimicked him.  Las Ramblas was packed with tourists and locals as they strolled the famous boulevard. 
We basically made our way north up the Las Ramblas and found a restaurant, La Poma, where I parked Mary Alice and ordered her a Sangria.  From there I continued on to the Gaudi house heading north down the Passage de Garcia about 6 blocks and found what I was looking for.

Casa Botlló is the strangest yet most beautiful buildings I have ever seen.  The hardest part about this little side journey was the wait to get a ticket and go inside. The entry fee was 21.50 E but I convinced the sales person I was entitled to a senior discount so I saved 5 Euros!  The most unusual part of the home is the roof, with what appears to be a huge dragon, also the most unusual chimney covers. 

Gaudi designed and built another apartment building down the street, La Pedrera.  It was the chimney caps that Lucas used as a design for the Star Wars troopers.
After photos I decided to get back to Mary Alice.  Instead of walking the six blocks back, (and they are long blocks) I took a chance on a Barcelona bus and rode back almost to the restaurant. 

Gaudi's other building:  La Pedrera

I found Mary Alice (who had sipped the Sangria for almost 2 hours) worried about me.  This is because I had the passports, ship's passenger cards, money, credit cards, etc. 
From there we got into the flow of people on Las Ramblas headed south this time and made our way back to the shuttle bus pickup point.  We bid our farewell to Barcelona tomorrow morning and arrive in Houston same day about 6pm.  All in all it's been a great cruise.  See ya! Thanks for checking out our blog. We love sharing with you.

A Las Ramblas Mime & Mary Alice
The Journey Home:  Saturday
Our journey home began at 5am Barcelona time.  Our checked luggage had been picked up by the ship's crew the night before and would be waiting for us after we walked off Sat morning.  We got off the ship about 7:30 with Mary Alice being assisted by a personal assistant with a wheelchair.  We found our bags, and found our bus to the airport. 
We arrived at the airport and got checked for the flight to Newark, NJ on United.  We boarded the big Boeing 787 and got comfortable for the flight home.  I normally can't sleep on these flights and prefer to watch movies, which is what I did.  We arrived in Newark and Mary Alice was met by a personal assistant with a wheel chair.  She absolutely could not walk the distances from our arrival point to the United gate for the flight to IAH.  We arrived in Houston with another personal assistant waiting for Mary Alice.  He carted us to the baggage claim area.  All four of our checked luggage arrived. (That's always good!) We found our van driver who loaded our bags and we made it home, both of us exhausted.

I feel very blessed to have the ability to travel like we do and for the Lord watching over us all the way.  We had a great cruise and great time together.  We'll go again, just not soon. Adios amigo.
Another Barcelona landmark

Huge statue of Columbus pointing to America (the New World)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Monte Carlo, Monaco: A Day with Michel & Chantal

The Emerald Princess arrived off the coast of Monte Carlo at 7am this morning and dropped anchor.  The crew manned the tender crafts and the passengers began going ashore to visit the small principality made famous by the marriage of Grace Kelly to Prince Ranier in the 60's.  As you may know Princess Grace died when her car ran off one of the mountain roads here.

We arranged to meet our friends from France, Michele and Chantal, at the harbor after getting off the tender.  They found us shortly after we arrived ashore and we were off to see Monaco. 

We made a quick trip by the famous Casino as seen in the James Bond movies.  This is the weekend of the Monaco Grand Prix so there was lots of traffic.  Michel decided to park his car near the Palace and Museum.  We strolled the streets with all the other tourists, visited the Palace and then had lunch at a sidewalk cafe.  After a trip to the park and overlook it was time to head back to the Emerald Princess.  We bid Michel and Chantal goodbye and got on a tender craft and returned to the Emerald Princess. 

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See you in Barcelona.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Civitavecchia: The Port for Rome, but We Chose Tuscany

Civitavecchia:  The Port for Rome, but We Chose Tuscany

Today the Emerald Princess docked in Civitavecchia about 6am.  This is the cruise terminal for Rome, Italy.  There is nothing around the port nor in the town itself so it does not lend itself to being a tourist destination. Ninety percent of the tours today were to Rome and the Vatican.  Mary Alice and I had already done both and we were not interested in cramming a day tour of Rome with a 2-hour each way bus ride! So, we chose a tour of the Tuscan countryside and a stop at Lake Bracciano and a local winery for lunch. I don't normally like bus tours but it was one way of getting off the ship for the day.
Umbrella Pine

The Emerald Princess passenger services arranged for us to get off early with Mary Alice's wheel chair.  So at about 9:00 am we made our way to Deck #4 and we got off the ship.  We found our tour bus and our guide, John and our bus drive Giuseppe.  John spoke very good English and we quickly made friends of both. The remaining passengers arrived at 9:30 and we all boarded the bus and we were on our way.


The tour took us toward Roma, that's the Italian way of pronouncing Rome.  The route took us east and north to Lake Bracciano, a large beautiful lake.  We passed by a medieval castle and stopped at the lakeside village of Anguillarla for a rest stop and coffee.
The Tuscan countryside is beautiful this time of year.  There are wildflowers all along the highway.  The most unusual tree but common tree is the "umbrella pine."  All the tree branches are trimmed except the top portion and the effect causes the tree to look like an upside down umbrella.

Our final stop was at a winery where we had lunch with delicious Italian bread, ham and olive oil.  We arrived back at the ship at 2:30.  It was a good tour. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Alghero; a Small Port on Sardinia's Western Coast

Us in Bergen, Norway

Alghero;  a Small Port on Sardinia's Western Coast
If you've never heard of Sardinia, look at a map of the Med and find Italy.  Sardinia is the island west of the Italian boot about halfway.  Alghero is on the western coast of Sardinia. 

We arrived around 7:00am this morning amid overcast skies and mild temperatures.  The Emerald Princess dropped anchor about 4 miles from the harbor of Alghero.  If we go ashore it will be by tender craft.  One of the ship's tenders is not in operation so it will take longer to get ashore.  Mary Alice and I went and had breakfast in the Horizon Grill.  She found a couple from Quebec and she was babbling in French to them as I walked up to the table.  She was definitely happy to have found some people to parle in French.  She has really progressed in her language skills conversing with these two from Quebec.  After breakfast we decided to wait a couple of hours before deciding to go ashore.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Gibraltar: A Brief Stop

A Brief Stop in Gibraltar
We can't complain about the weather on this cruise.  It has been beautiful; calm seas, partly cloudy, mild temperatures.  That is what awaited us in Gibraltar.  We were here a couple of years ago and took a tour to the Spanish coast. 
Gibraltar is one of those places with a storied past.  It is strategically located at the west end of the Mediterranean. And it  guards the entrance to and exit from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.  It is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.
We did not want to see the "apes", a breed of tailless monkeys known as Barbary Apes, found near the top of the mountain of Gibraltar.  Nor did we want to see the tunnels that were used as shelter between 1779-1783, War of Spanish Succession known as the Great Siege.  The English emerged victorious and it is an English territory today.

We did need some bottled water.  So, I made a trek into town for a five day supply.  Mary Alice stayed on the ship.
After I got back to the ship we went to 15th deck and sat in the hot tub and let the water jets massage my bruised legs.  My ankles and right leg are still bothering me that I have to take ibuprophen for the swelling.  We splurged on lunch splitting a hot dog and hamburger with iced tea.  Later we both sacked out in the room and woke up in time to get ready for the 7:00pm show and dinner afterward.
I don't normally write about singers, magicians or other performers we see at the Princess Theater on these cruises but this guy was fantastic.  His name is Kyle Esplin. He was billed as a "piano entertainer."  If you have ever seen Jerry Lee Lewis perform it would give you some idea of the type of music he plays.  All I can say is it was one of the best performances I have ever seen by a guy playing and singing at the piano.  I am sure if you Google "Kyle Esplin" or search Youtube you'll find a clip of one of his shows.

That's all for Gibraltar.  Our next stop is Sardinia, later.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Saturday in Cadiz: Gateway to Moorish Spain

Ceiling of the Seville Cathedral (very Gothic)
The Emerald Princess entered Spanish waters around 5:00am under a bright, nearly full moon with a destination of the port city of Cadiz, gateway to the Atlantic and Moorish Spain. Cadiz has been a commercial port for 3000 years going back to 1100 B.C. when Phoenician merchants from Tyre established a port here.  The Spanish plain has always been a superb place for growing olives, fruit and vegetables.  The territory has been fought over for hundreds of years going back to the Tunic Wars.  You remember that in World History, right! 
Well, Rome took control over Spain in 218 B.C. and developed it into a productive colony.  After the fall of Rome it was occupied by the Vandals and Visigoths until the Moors invasion in 711 A.D.  The Moors soon spread their brand of Islam as far north as the Pyrenees but they soon lost northern Spain.  It was in the south that the Moors built three beautiful cities; Seville, Cordoba and Grenada and they flourished as cultural centers.  Interestingly enough, my USAF roommate, Bill Muzenski and I made a trip in our VW van down from W. Germany through France and Spain in 1968 to Grenada.
Back to history! The Moors lost Spain in 1492 when Ferdinand and Isabella captured the citadel of Grenada.  If that year sounds familiar, it was the same year that Columbus sailed across the Atlantic and found the New World.  And as they say.... the rest is history.
Mary Alice and I decided to do separate things today because I've always wanted to photograph the ancient city of Seville and she needed a non-walking, stay on the bus tour. So we got off the ship and I got her to her bus and I found my bus for Seville. 
My tour departed the docks at 8:30 and the route to Seville was along the E5 for about 1 1/2 hours.  The tour guide asked everyone to be back at the bus by 2:45 pm.  After taking us to the Seville Cathedral I was on my own. 

The Seville Cathedral is the third largest in the world.  It is the largest Gothic church in the world.  It has flying buttresses and very high ceilings.  Here is a timeline of the history of this church.
A minaret converted into a statue of Mary

1181-1198:  Seville's Main Mosque and minaret were built using bricks.  The Mosque's courtyard was conserved as it is today; an orange tree grove.
1218:  The Mosque was consecrated as a Cathedral
1134-1517:  Construction work began on the Gothic Cathedral.  The project began on the western section.  Stone was used as the building material.
1528-1601  The Renaissance period saw major works in the chapels and annexes.
1618-1758  The influence of Baroque art is seen in the Parish Church of El Sagrario and two smaller chapels.
1825-1928:  The last major works in the Cathedral, three main doors and the southwest corner.

I waited in line for an hour to get inside after paying the 9 Euro entrance. All I can tell you is, "It was worth the wait."
The first things I noticed inside were the supporting pillars.  Enormous. There is a central altar that does not allow any person to get close.  It is made of gold.  There are stain glass windows at the top of the ceiling with various catholic saints depicted.  There is an actual chapel to the side, as big as any church.  There was a wedding happening while I was there.  It was not open to the public. By the way, Christopher Columbus is buried inside the cathedral.
I wanted to go inside the Alcazar, the Moorish castle from the 1400's which is right next to the cathedral but it also had a very long ling to get inside.  I passed on the Alcazar.  I did walk around the old quarter, saw the bull ring, and the University.  I looked up and it was 2:00pm and I decided to head toward the bus.  You don't want to get left behind 100 miles away or so in Seville with the ship leaving Cadiz at 5:00pm.
I had the front seat to myself so I stretched out as best I could and closed my eyes.  The next thing I knew, we were in Cadiz.  MA was in the room waiting on me.  She had a great time on her tour also. They toured Cadiz and outskirts in a bus and MA decided this is a beautiful place for us to come back to someday for a beach vacation!  Cadiz too has a cathedral plus a wonderful shopping and dining area, all right by the pier.  There are hop-off hop-on bus excursions there too.  We think they are a fantastic way to get to know a new city.  Next time!

Our next port of call is Gibraltar.  We may not get off the ship.
Altar of Gold
Old Quarter Bar
Narrow Streets

While in line we were entertained by a flamenco dancer and guitar player and singer.