We arrived in Hamilton in the afternoon of May 13. Our original itinerary scheduled us to dock in St. George’s on May 14. They switched to Hamilton early in the cruise (don’t know why). We were able to dock in Hamilton a day early because we left Horta much earlier than planned & the Captain pushed the ship in order to give us more time in Hamilton as compensation for missing Horta. It was raining a lot, however, & Mary wasn’t feeling well (we were both pretty worn down by the end of the voyage) so we didn’t go ashore on the 13th. The 14th was rainy off and on as well, and we had already been to Bermuda once, so we only spent a few hours in town. While we visited several buildings on our walk, the predominant impression was made by the profusion of beautiful flowers (it was Spring, after all).
The picture above is distorted, of course, because it is a panorama. The wall in the front is actually straight rather than curved. Prominent in this picture are the cathedral (top center), the Sessions House (top right with towers) and Front Street (nice old buildings filled mostly with tourist shops & restaurants) along the front.
We started out walking to the right down Front Street & soon came to the Cabinet Office. Hamilton has been the capital of Bermuda since 1815 (one of the world’s smallest, at just 1800 residents), so there are a number of government buildings here. This one had a nice garden in front of it (the green space just above front street on the far right in the picture above). In addition to some lovely flowers, there is an interesting memorial to the Bermudans who fought in WWI & WWII. It has seven plaques with a total of 3000 names & in the center is a sphere that constantly turns on its base. The sphere is not attached at all, so it must be supported by running water from underneath. There is also a striking sculpture that is a memorial to Sally Bassett, an elderly slave who was burned at the stake in 1730 after being convicted of attempting to poison the owners of her granddaughter. The sculpture shows her tied to the stake with kindling stacked under her feet. These are recent monuments: Sally Bassett was erected in 2008 & the war memorial in 2010.
We went on to Queen Elizabeth Park, formerly called Par-La Ville Park. It was laid out in the mid-19th century by the local postmaster, named Perot, who owned the Par-La Ville manor which is now the library. He collected plants from all over the world for this park & most are still there. It is a fairly small park, filled with colorful flowers, a fish pond, several roosters and a “moon gate” (a round gated portal of which Bermuda has several). Since 2007 it has also been a sculpture garden. Considered by many the premiere park in Bermuda, it is well worth a visit.
Next to the park was the Bermuda National Library & Museum. Its pretty small and unimposing for a “National” library, but it is known for its collection of Bermuda literature. In front of it somewhere is a rubber tree planted by Mr. Perot, in which Mark Twain once expressed disappointment because it did not bear hot water bottles or rubber overshoes. Inside is a collection of Bermudiana, including a doll dressed as a Gombey dancer (a Bermudan specialty) & the pocket trumpet of Vernon “Ghandi” Burgess, Bermuda’s most prominent jazz musician.
We walked on to the gleaming white City Hall which also contains the Bermuda National Art Gallery. The tower of the building appears to be a clock tower, but it actually tells the direction of the wind determined by the weathervane on top. The weathervane is supposed to be a model of the Sea Venture, the ship that brought the first settlers to Bermuda. It was trying to reach Jamestown (among the passengers was John Rolfe, who later married Pocahontas & was the first to plant tobacco in North America) but was wrecked on Bermuda in a hurricane. This well publicized adventure is said to have been the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Anyway, upstairs in the City Hall was the Gallery, displaying a lot of very interesting Bermudian art. There was a bronze sculpture of a family reading a book sitting by the front door & on the first floor a sculpture of a group of men that pretty much defies description.
We visited the Anglican Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, a gothic structure dedicated in 1911 that dominates the skyline, as you can see in the picture at the beginning of this episode. Apparently there is a law against erecting a building taller than the cathedral. Inside was a very large pipe organ (we have seen quite a few of those on this trip).
The last building we visited before returning to the ship was the Sessions House, which is home to Bermuda’s legislative Assembly & also its Supreme Court (in the lower level). It was first built in 1819, but the tower & colonnade were added in 1887 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee (there is a medallion of Queen Victoria on the outside wall). The dial on this tower really is a clock. Bermuda’s is the 4th oldest active Parliament in the world, after Britain, Iceland & the Isle of Man. Inside they still conduct government (court & assembly) the old fashioned way, in wigs.
It was starting to rain so we walked back to the ship but were unable to avoid getting pretty wet, even though we had umbrellas. But we saw more pretty flowers on the way. We also noticed a sign threatening a harsh sounding punishment for trespassing (so we didn’t go in). Right after we got back the sky opened up and it really poured, so as in Ponta Delgada we luckily timed it to avoid the worst of the weather.
Happily the weather cleared up before our departure in the late afternoon, because the sailaway from Bermuda is lengthy (to avoid the reefs) & beautiful. We passed a lot of brightly colored houses that are characteristic of Bermuda, we saw the lighthouse high on a hill and we saw a lot of beautiful bright blue water as we left.
So after two more days at sea we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale early on the morning of May 17, tired but happy. I will include here pictures of some of the crew (you may have seen some of these before). Here are the cruise director, Gene; Captain van Schoonhoven, who was captain on the second half of the trip; Lisa the travel guide; and Firmin, the hotel director (also on our South America cruise), who was about to retire (and planning a cruise as a passenger . . . I don’t think I would want to be the hotel director on that cruise with Firmin aboard). Here also are our table waiter from Barcelona to Ft. Lauderdale with Arthur our assistant waiter for the entire trip, Willie the supervisor in the Lido, Endang our super head waiter, Gildas the manager of the restaurant, and the delightful Kiki, who was our waiter for most of the trip. Here also is the director of the Prinsendam orchestra (about 5 pieces), an excellent guitar player who looks a little like Pete Townshend (or at least I thought so). These musicians are really good; they accompany visiting acts, which requires them to be able play in every conceivable style with almost no rehearsal. They did a concert by themselves of demanding jazz numbers (John Coltrane & Miles Davis) the day before we arrived & it was really excellent. Finally, if you have been with us the whole way you may recall from the Lanarca, Cyprus episode the night when I was randomly seated at dinner next to the ship acupuncturist from Australia, Lisa, who turned out to be the aunt of an attorney who had worked under my supervision at the Federal Election Commission. It was a stunning coincidence & I am including here a picture of Lisa & me taken on the deck the day before we landed. All of these folks worked very hard to make this a tremendous voyage, and with great success.
So on May 17 we disembarked, retrieved our car & drove to Saint Petersburg, where we spent a couple of enjoyable & relaxing days with Mary’s aunt & uncle, Michael & Irene. They live on a canal where from the veranda you can watch boats and wildlife all day long. Not to mention that this meant an additional two days of gourmet food cooked by someone other than us!
After that brief respite we drove home (two days) to Arlington, Virginia. And it felt great to get home after all that time even if we did have to start cooking our own food & washing our own dishes. But, looking back on it, this was truly a phenomenal voyage that actually exceeded our expectations. It is hard to imagine any other way to visit so many iconic places we have always wanted to see – the pyramids in Egypt, the acropolis in Athens, Pompeii, Venice & Rome in Italy, Jerusalem in Israel, Hagia Sophia & Topkapi Palace & Ephesus in Turkey, Marrakesh and Casablanca in Morocco, the Alhambra & Gaudi’s buildings in Spain, the rock of Gibralter – all in one trip. On top of that were all the places with which we hadn’t been familiar that turned out to be so fascinating, like Taormina in Sicily, Antalya in Turkey, Taroudant in Morocco, Kotor in Montenegro, Dubrovnik in Croatia and Valletta in Malta. Traveling by ship has many advantages: unpacking once on a two month trip with a single all-inclusive ticket that provides transportation, hotel, meals, education & entertainment, without the hassle of scheduling all of those things separately. And you can develop friends among your fellow travelers with whom to share the adventure.
Of course nothing is perfect and the primary downside to travel by cruise ship (assuming you don’t suffer from seasickness) is that there is often insufficient time in a port to see and do everything you want. But there were so many places we never would have seen at all without this voyage and we did see and experience quite a bit in every port we visited. The fact that there are some places you (certainly we) would want to revisit at a more leisurely pace doesn’t really detract much from all that. There is no other way to see & do & learn all that we we did on a trip like that. And while it is far from cheap, when you compare the daily cost with all that was provided it is a pretty good value compared to other ways of traveling. (No, I wasn’t paid for this commercial.) For those who haven’t followed the whole voyage, here is a reprise of the map of our original itinerary (we missed about three of these ports, Naples was added en route & St. George’s was switched to Hamilton) & a picture of the Prinsendam that includes our stateroom window (2d window from the front on the walking deck just below the lifeboats).
So I hope you have all enjoyed following along on this blog, although there is no way you enjoyed it as much as we did. I would bet that, after all this time, a lot of you had given up on my finishing it, but although it took a lot longer than I expected, here we are at the very end! We are planning another voyage in July of 2014 that will take us to the icy north: Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Scotland & Amsterdam. Assuming that is long enough for me to fully recover (& forget how much work this actually required) I expect I will blog that trip too. If you are signed up for email notifications or RSS feeds from this blog you will automatically receive notification when we leave; if not you will just have to remember to check back in July if you want to tag along. I will leave you today as I have so often with another towel animal (one of our favorites that reappeared on the last leg of the journey) & a fruit sculpture (a watermelon shark). That’s all, folks!
Early on May 8, after two days at sea, we limped into the harbor of Ponta Delgada. Why limped? Well, during dinner a couple of days earlier we suddenly heard a loud noise coming from the engines (located below the restaurant). One of our tablemates said “that doesn’t sound good,” and indeed she was correct. It turned out that something had broken (we seem to recall a stabilizer, but I’m not sure that’s right) which necessitated turning off one of the two engines. Fortunately the other engine kept going, but the Captain sounded quite nervous about it. They arranged for someone to meet the ship in Ponta Delgada with a replacement part that they spent the day installing. After a successful test we were able to leave that evening only a few hours late. It’s a good thing this didn’t happen after we left the Azores when we had 4 days of open ocean to travel before a port where repairs could be made! On the positive side, during the evening before we reached Ponta Delgada we had an amazing sunset off the starboard bow that made it look like the whole ocean was on fire.
Ponta Delgada is the capital and largest city (about 45,000 people) in the Azores, a group of islands about 800 miles west of mainland Portugal. It is located on the island of Sao Miguel, the largest of the group. These are volcanic islands that are the tips of the highest mountains in the world (measured from their bases on the ocean floor). When discovered by Portuguese sailors in the early 15th century the Azores were uninhabited (by humans), but that didn’t last very long. Given their location it isn’t too surprising that the Azores became an important stop in American trade; at one point Ponta Delgada was the 4th largest city in Portugal. In the 19th Century it was a center of the American whaling industry. Today it is a convenient stop for cruise ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean.
Prinsendam was docked on the inside of the sea wall across from the town waterfront, and a shuttle bus was provided to take us into town. This is supposed to be a beautiful island, with lots of green hills & lakes in old volcano calderas & picturesque fishing villages, and a lot of passengers took tours of the island. But it was a drizzly day & we were pretty worn out of bus touring, so we decided just to walk around the town & see whatever was there. The shuttle bus drove along the sea wall, which was covered with very interesting graffiti (at least I think it was graffiti rather than commissioned art) and dropped us on the waterfront promenade. Some of the graffiti looked like Hieronymus Bosch figures. The seafront promenade was paved with mosaics of black & white volcanic stones, of which we would see a lot more.
Our first stop was Forte de Sao Bras, a 16th century fortress right on the waterfront. It was originally built to defend the town from pirates. There was a museum inside, but everything was in Portuguese so we didn’t get much out of it. On the battlements were some guns that looked like WWII vintage, and there were good views of our docked ship and of the town. The side of the fort facing the town has a memorial to Portuguese sailors in WWI. There were some fairly creepy looking trees not yet in bloom that could have come from a Dr. Seuss book & also some flowering succulents.
We walked over to the large nearby square called Campo São Francisco (I think), which is sort of a festival ground. It is covered with mosaics. Sidewalk and street mosaics seem to be a Portuguese specialty (we saw a lot in Madeira and last year in Brazil) and Ponta Delgada is chock full of them in many varieties. Those of you who have followed this blog will know that we never tire of these, so you will be seeing a lot of them in this episode. Standing with your back to the water & the fort, on your left is the Igreja Sao Jose (Church of St. Joseph) and in front to the right is the Convento de Esperanca attached to the Igreja de Santo Christo. These two churches are good examples of the distinctive architecture here, with detailed decoration of dark lava stone on white background walls that look like stucco.
The biggest religious festival of the year in Ponta Delgada is the “Festa do Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres” (Feast of Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles). This is a multi-day festival highlighted by a procession carrying an image of Jesus around to all the churches in town through streets full of flowers followed by a large fireworks display over the fort. The image was presented by the Pope to the first convent established on Sao Miguel in the 16th century and the first procession was in 1700 when the island was hit by earthquakes. The tremors abated and the tradition was established. Unfortunately, we missed this spectacle by three days, but the festival lighting was still in place on the church, in the plaza and over some of the streets. The image of Santo Cristo dos Milagres is in the Church of Santo Cristo, where we saw it in a large room full of flower displays behind a gate. On the other side of the church was an area of gilded walls and vaulted ceiling with an altar that looked like a Christmas tree from a distance. The walls of the center section of the church, near the entrance, were partly covered with murals made of blue and white tiles that made an interesting contrast to the richly polished wood appurtenances.
I don’t know if this is only associated with the festival or if it is normal, but walking around town we saw a lot of houses with beautiful displays of flowers, mostly under windows or on balconies.
We walked on toward the center of town over several interesting mosaic patterned sidewalks. We came to the city hall, sporting a 17th century bell tower. In front is a fountain in a long pool leading up to a statue of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of the island of Sao Miguel.
Continuing on, we came to the old gates to the city, built in 1783, on a huge plaza facing the water. Before the seawall was built this was where ships docked. At that time the water came much closer and this was the gate in the city wall. On the right of the plaza (facing away from the water) is the clock tower of the Church of Sao Sebastio & well to the left is the city hall behind its fountain. In the front of the plaza facing the water is a statue of Goncalo Velho Cabral, the first governor of Sao Miguel and the sea captain credited with discovering it. The plaza is named after him.
We walked over to visit the 15th century Iglesa de Sao Sebastiao just beyond the plaza. We passed sidewalk mosaics that were pictures of fruit & vegetables, as well as a plaza of mosaic stars by the church. This church has a great deal of interesting carved wood & stone at the entrances and inside. It also has a nice pipe organ on a balcony and some very old music on display.
So we moved on up the hill, looking for what is always one of our prime objectives: the library. Needless to say, we saw more sidewalk mosaics, all different from what we had already seen. The library must be important to these folks since they have a special street sign giving directions. The library didn’t look very interesting from the front, but inside we found a nice garden, a brilliantly tiled stairway & a wall with a variety of languages carved into it. Just down the hill from the library was the 16th century Colegio convent (although I’m not sure whether it is still used for that).
Further up the hill from the library were the beautiful Palacio de Sant’Ana Jardim (Gardens of the Sant’Ana Palace). On the way up we encountered some tiny frogs in a pond in someone’s front yard. The Sant’Ana Palace is a large 19th century reddish colored building with statuary embedded in its walls. Our favorite was a statue of a woman with a sword wearing what looks like a Greek helmet. But what was special was the bird sitting on the helmet. We have seen quite a few outdoor statues with birds sitting on top, but this is the only one in which the bird is actually part of the statue. Maybe it landed here and was turned to stone! The palace is the headquarters of the Presidency of the Azores & the gardens surrounding the palace are quite beautiful, with flora from different parts of the world set out in their own areas. It was pretty quiet when we were there.
We returned to the ship just ahead of the rain. That night, after the refurbished engine passed its tests, we sailed on to our next scheduled port: Horta, on the island of Faial in the western part of the Azores. Unfortunately, this was a tender port & the Captain decided that the water was too rough to disembark (boo!). So here are some photos of Horta, taken from the ship. You can see that the weather was not very nice & there was some turbulence in the water (although it doesn’t look all that bad). The hill on the left is an old volcano caldera.
On the opposite side of the ship from Horta was the nearby island of Pico. At its center is the largest mountain in Portugal, an extinct volcano, which looked particularly dramatic among the clouds on this day.
So we set off a little early toward Hamilton, Bermuda, our last stop before returning to Florida. This would be four days at sea, a welcome respite for tired travellers. I will close this episode by catching up on pictures of some pretty creative food art, a couple of brightly colored ice sculptures & several towel animals (some of which are similar to ones we have seen previously; I guess 64 days exceeds the towel animal repertory of our artistic room stewards).
May 5 found us in Cadiz, Spain, our last stop on the continent of Europe. With a population of 125,000, Cadiz is on the southwest Atlantic coast of Andalusia, a little beyond the Pillars of Hercules and therefore not in the Mediterranean. Founded around 1100 BC by the Phoenicians, who named it “Gadir” meaning enclosure or stronghold, this is considered by most to be the oldest continuously occupied city in western Europe. When it was part of the Roman empire after 206 BC the city was called Gades in Latin, and the Moors, who occupied it from the early 8th Century until 1262, Arabized the name to Qadis, which became Cadiz in Spanish after the Reconquista. Cadiz was the starting point for Columbus’s 2d and 4th voyages to America (although he thought it was Asia, of course), and became very wealthy during the 17th & 18th centuries when it held a virtual monopoly on trade with Spanish America after the port of Seville was blocked by silt. The city is located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula reaching out into a large bay, so there is water all around. Here is a panoramic view of the city from the upper deck of Prinsendam.
But before we get into what we saw on this stop, the night before reaching Cadiz we had an interesting performance on board by a local dance group. Consisting of four women, they presented a modern take on flamenco & other Spanish dancing and it was pretty striking. But detracting from the performance was the fact that all the music was canned; no live musicians at all. This was the first performance by local artists that had been presented that way & we thought it made a big difference, and not a good one. Still, the dancing was great & we were not sorry to have attended.
Cadiz looks like a very interesting city to explore & it is small enough that you can pretty much do it all on your own on foot from the ship. But everyone says that Seville is the real showpiece in this part of Spain and we had never been here before, so we signed up for a day trip to Seville. They were right, Seville is fabulous. Our only real regret is that we had only one day, with a fairly early departure, and that wasn’t really enough time so we felt a little rushed. But as you will see in the pictures below, what we did see was pretty special.
Our bus left pretty early in the morning, taking us past the 16th century Puertas de Tierra (the land gates), one of the few remnants of the old city walls, which was modified in the 20th century so that car traffic could go through two large arches. We passed several nice looking towns on the way as well. These pictures were taken through the window of a moving bus, so some blurriness & window reflections were unavoidable.
Like so many of the cities we have visited on this voyage, Seville is very old, founded by the Romans around 200 BC. Like Cadiz, after the fall of the Roman empire it was ruled by the Visigoths for a few centuries then was governed by the Moors from the early 8th Century until 1248, when Ferdinand III drove them out and incorporated it into the kingdom of Castile. Although located about 50 miles up the Guadalquivir river, Seville’s port is accessible by smaller ocean going ships (the Azamara Journey docked there not too long ago). After Columbus’s first voyage Seville was designated as the exclusive port for American trade, which meant that any ship trading in the Americas had to begin & end its voyage here. This made Seville into one of the largest (a million people) and richest cities in Europe. But the monopoly was broken by Cadiz at the end of the 16th Century and then the river began to silt up and restrict navigation to Seville. As a result, Cadiz became the new port for American trade and in the 18th Century was one of the richest cities in Europe as Seville went into decline.
As we arrived in Seville we saw many flowering trees & fountains, one of which is part of a 1973 monument to Juan Sebastian Elcano, the captain of the one ship with 18 men that completed Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world in 1512. This voyage began and ended in Seville & Magellan had been killed along the way. The red and white candy striped building behind the memorial is the 19th Century Pavilion of San Telmo. It is known locally as the Costurero de la Reina (Queen’s Sewing Box) because the wife of King Alfonso XII supposedly spent time here sewing. In fact, however, she died 15 years before it was built. Many of the buildings in this part of Seville are in a lively Spanish style.
We first walked to the Barrio Santa Cruz. This was once the “Jewish Quarter,” actually a walled ghetto with two gates. It is right next to the Alcazar, the royal palace, & our guide told us that the king once said that he kept the Jews so close to him because of his high regard for them. Sure. Anyway, in 1391 there was a nasty pogrom in which most of the Jews here were murdered & their property expropriated. Their synagogues were converted to churches. And of course in 1492 the remaining Jews who declined to convert to Christianity were expelled from Spain.
Not a lovely history, but it is today quite a lovely neighborhood & very popular with visitors. The first place we visited was Plaza Santa Cruz, which is where the painter Bartolome Murillo was born. In the center is a 16th century wrought iron cross called the Cruz de la Cerrajería (Locksmith’s cross). I don’t know why its called that, but it is supposed to commemorate the Church of Holy Cross that stood here until the Napoleonic wars and gave the neighborhood its name. The church had been built on the remains of a synagogue & the floor of the synagogue (& the church) forms the center for the plaza. There are orange trees all around this part of Seville, something Seville has always been known for. They are attractive, but the fruit is said to be bitter & useful mainly for British marmalade.
Barrio Santa Cruz is a labyrinth of narrow, twisty streets with brightly colored buildings. It has several plazas & sidewalk cafes & a whole lot of souvenir shops (I told you it was popular with tourists). We also noted that the roofs of many of the buildings have weeds growing on them. We walked through this quarter to reach our next stop, the Alcazar, which borders the Santa Cruz neighborhood.
After our (first) stroll through Santa Cruz we arrived at the Plaza del Triunfo (Triumph Square), a UNESCO world heritage site bordered by the Alcazar on one side and the Cathedral on the other. On a third side is the General Archive of the Indies, housed in a 16th century structure originally built as a merchant exchange. It contains the documentary history of Spain’s American empire, including such items as Columbus’s diary & the Pope’s declaration dividing the new world between the Spanish & Portuguese. This is a UNESCO site that, sadly, we didn’t have time to visit. There was a long wait for our guide to get tickets to the Alcazar (why didn’t they buy these in advance?) as we waited outside the wall. On the wall above the entryway is a plaque with a lion holding a lance standing on a bunch of generic looking animals (alligators?). The guide said this represented the Christian king’s conquest over Islam. There was also in this plaza an unusual small fountain supporting an elaborate column topped by a streetlight, standing in front of the Cathedral.
The Alcazar is the royal palace of Seville. First constructed by the Moors in the 10th century, it was greatly expanded after the Christian conquest, most notably in the 14th century by King Pedro the Cruel (imagine how much his people must have loved him to give him that name). This is one of the most important examples of mudejar architecure, which means designed & built by Moors after the Reconquista for a Christian king (although some additions since then have been in other styles). Much of it is very reminiscent of the actual Moorish design of the Alhambra, which we saw early in this journey, but you can tell it was not actually of Islamic origin because there are images of people and animals in various places. Today the Alcazar is still the Seville residence of the Spanish royal family, who occupy the upper floors when in town. We were told that this building cannot be visited when the monarch is there, but I am not sure this is true since we only visited the first floor in any event.
Many of the views in this palace are really stunning. It is full of intricate Moorish tile work and carved stucco decoration. We felt that we were hurried through (to be fair, there was a lot to see today and not so much time) and our guide, while he seemed knowledgeable and amiable, talked rather softly and very fast and had a bit of an accent. Because of this you pretty much had to choose whether to stay close to him and listen or wander around and look and take pictures. You will see below that we chose the latter.
As at Disney World, once we were admitted through the Lion Gate in the wall we came to an inner courtyard, the Courtyard of the Lion, where we had to wait again for our turn to enter the building. This gave us some time to admire the façade of the palace built by Pedro, the wall with arches on the opposite side of the courtyard & the mosaic sidewalk of black and white stones.
Inside we visited, inter alia, the Salon de los Embajadores (The Ambassadors Room), which has a domed ceiling of gilded cedar wood. It also has horse shoe arches (Arcos de Herradura), elaborate tile work and carved stucco (I think) reliefs on the walls in a variety of colors.
The Patio de las Doncellas (Courtyard of the Maidens) is reminiscent of the courtyards in the Alhambra, with a reflecting pool in the center flanked by sunken gardens & lots of intricate lattice-like plaster work. The first floor was built by Pedro but the second floor was added by Charles V in the 16th century in a Renaissance style.
Here is another courtyard, the name of which I don’t know, but this one is three stories high and there is no pool inside.
The mosaic tile work on the walls throughout the Alcazar is colorful, dramatic and varied. I can’t tell you what rooms these are in, but they are worth looking at anyway.
Here is a bunch of ceilings from various rooms, each one different (not to mention the ceiling of the Ambassadors’ room that we have already seen).
Here are the leftovers: pictures from inside the Alcazar that I thought worth seeing but don’t fit into any of these categories.
So then we passed out of the palace into the gardens. On one wall was a plaque reading “Plus Ultra,” Latin for “further beyond.” This was the personal motto of Charles V, grandson of Ferdinand & Isabella, and today appears on the Spanish flag.
Behind the palace next to the gardens is the “Pool of Mercury.” The pool houses fish (who do not always play nicely with one another) and is fed by a fountain from the building. It has a statue of Mercury in the middle and is bordered by a wall with paintings in it. Bronze lions sit at the corners. Beyond it, the wall continues into the lush gardens with fountains, benches and sculpted shrubs.
We left the Alcazar through the Patio de Banderas (Courtyard of Flags) , where there was a beautiful view of the Giralda, the bell tower of the Cathedral. We walked through the Jewish Quarter again, this time along the wall of the Alcazar. I have read that this wall once carried water on the top like an aqueduct. Then we walked through the beautiful Jardines de Murillo (Murillo gardens), which had several small plazas with fountains and tiled benches. It also has a monument to Christopher Columbus consisting of two tall columns with a lion on top and a ship in the middle.
We boarded the bus to go to lunch. But on the way they took us for a drive past the bullfighting stadium (moving too fast for a decent picture), and across the Guadalquivir river, the only navigable river in Spain. It was a lovely day & there were beautiful flowers and rowers practicing in the river. We saw the Torre de Oro (Gold Tower), built by the Moors in the early 13th century. This was one anchor for a huge chain they put across the river to prevent an invading fleet from reaching the harbor; the Christian fleet’s breaking of this chain in 1248 was a decisive moment in the reconquest of Seville. W also saw a very unusual bridge that looked a little like a hand held harp. Built in 1992, it is called the Puente del Alamillo. The buffet lunch was unmemorable (I can’t remember it), but the hotel where we ate had a nice tile covered fountain in the sitting area with little ceramic frogs spitting water into it.
After lunch we headed back to the Plaza del Triunfo to visit the Cathedral. Just across the street from our luncheon hotel were what I took to be the walls of the Alcazar. We passed some amazing flowers then walked again through the Barrio Santa Cruz, this time taking a street that enabled us to look through the iron gates at the courtyards in some wealthier houses.
Seville’s Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the largest Catholic cathedral in the world. Two churches are generally considered to be slightly larger: St. Peter’s in Rome (not a cathedral) & St. Paul’s in London (not Catholic), but I have read that a more recent measurement of volume places Seville back on top. I guess this is not an exact science & depends on how you go about measuring. Originally there was a mosque on this site which was converted into a church after the reconquest in 1248. However, it was damaged in an earthquake in the 14th century and had to be replaced. The city fathers then resolved to “build a church so big that those who see it will think us mad” (an interesting goal, to convince your progeny that you were nuts; many parents spend a great part of their lives trying unsuccessfully to convince their progeny that they are reasonable and sane). They spent about a century doing just that; when completed in 1506 it supplanted the Hagia Sofia as the largest in the world (just 5 years later, after the warranty expired, the dome collapsed & had to be rebuilt). The Cathedral is built mostly in a gothic style and has a roof that looks like an abstract sculpture garden.
The Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral. It was originally built as a minaret in the 12th century but was converted to a bell tower after the reconquista when the mosque was made into a church. It reminded me of the Koutoubia Mosque we had seen in Marrakesh and when I looked it up after returning home I discovered that it was actually modeled on the mosque. Its not a copy, but you can see below that the style is similar. The top third of the tower, containing the belfry, is in Spanish renaissance style & was added in the 16th century.
After another long wait for admittance (again tickets not purchased in advance), we entered through one of the few remaining doors from the old mosque, built with a horseshoe arch. This took us into a courtyard behind the Cathedral. We entered through the Puerta del Lagarto (door of the lizard). From the ceiling in front of this door hang an elephant tusk & a stuffed crocodile the sultan of Egypt gave to Alfonso X in 1260 (actually, the crocodile is a wood replica, since the original apparently hasn’t survived).
The interior was, of course, just as awe inspiring as the original city fathers intended, with soaring pillars, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. After all, it is the largest gothic cathedral in the world!
The Cathedral has a number of side chapels, some with very elaborate altars. Most of them are behind iron or bronze gates, some of which are works of art in themselves. The Chapel of St. Andrew contains a large painting by Murillo called “The Vision of St. Andrew.” In 1874 thieves cut out the figure of St. Andrew and tried to sell it in New York as a separate painting. A sharp art dealer returned it to the Spanish & it was reattached to the original painting. However, you can still see where the repair was made.
One of the major features of this cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus. There has long been controversy about whether Columbus is really in there, since he travelled almost as much after his death as before. The Seville tomb was originally to be in Cuba, but was brought here after Spain lost that island in the Spanish American War. There is another tomb of Columbus in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A few years ago, however, a DNA test was done on the remains in Seville which concluded that this is Columbus (the mitochondrial DNA in these remains matched that of Columbus’s brother Diego, also interred in this cathedral). But it turns out there is not a full skeleton in there, so part of Columbus may still be in the Dominican Republic. The Dominicans have so far declined a DNA test on their remains, so the mystery remains.
The tomb is unusual in that it is a box (at least I think he is in the box rather than underneath) suspended on poles held up by four pall bearers, each representing one of the medieval kingdoms that made up Spain (Castile, Aragon, Navarre & Leon). It is a large dramatic structure in the context of this huge cathedral. Coincidentally, I was told, it stands in front of a two story tall painting of St. Christopher.
In the center of the Cathedral is the choir, elaborately carved in wood. The main glory of this Cathedral is supposed to be its main altar piece, composed of 45 scenes from the life of Christ carved in wood (gilded, I think) by a single artist around the turn of the 16th century. It is the largest and richest altarpiece in the world. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it because it was apparently being refurbished behind a huge canvas curtain displaying a picture of what was behind. Maybe next time!
I have pictures of two more things worth noting from inside the Cathedral (there was a whole lot we didn’t get to see, however). One is the beautiful pipe organ mounted somewhere in the middle of the Cathedral. It is of impressive size & beauty & there is a marble building underneath it (don’t know what that is). I also have a picture of a wall of sculptures; I don’t know what that is either, but I think its worth seeing.
We exited the Cathedral into the Patio de los Naranjos (court of the oranges). This was the courtyard of the original mosque, where worshippers cleansed themselves before entering. Today it is filled with orange trees. In the center is a Moorish fountain incorporating a 6th century carved marble font that was part of a Visigoth cathedral that was here before the Moors arrived. While in this court we saw the Door of the Conception, built at the turn of the 20th century despite its gothic appearance. There was also a different view of the Giralda (with a tourist marring the view). We left through the Puerta del Perdon (gate of forgiveness) across the courtyard from the Cathedral, which was the original entrance to the old mosque.
We boarded the bus for the short trip to our last stop in Seville, the Plaza de Espana. On the way we saw the equestrian statue of El Cid, a hero of the Spanish Reconquista wars against the Moors (there is an old movie about him starring Charleston Heston & Sophia Loren). The statue dates to about 1930 & is the work of an American sculptor named Anna Hyatt Huntington. There are identical statues in Balboa Park in San Diego & somewhere in New York & Washington. You won’t see El Cid’s face here because the guide didn’t tell us what this was until after we had passed it.
Plaza de Espana was built as the centerpiece for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition, which was actually part of a larger world’s fair that was held mostly in Barcelona. A number of American countries, including the United States, Brazil and many of the former Spanish colonies, built pavilions here that afterward became consulates. We drove past a few of those.
The Plaza de Espana is an impressive architectural work, using aspects of Art Deco, Renaissance & Mudejar styles to create a unified whole. There is a lot to like about it, including colorful tile work, towers, bridges, waterways & a fountain. But on the day we visited this monumental space was mostly empty of people, which gave it a bit of an eerie feeling. It was kind of like being he first to enter a Disney World theme park in the morning when nothing has started yet. If this place looks familiar it might be because scenes on the planet Naboo were filmed here for Star Wars Episodes I & II. It also played the army headquarters in Lawrence of Arabia. The plaza is a large semicircular building with towers on each end. There is a moat paralleling the inside of the semicircle with blue tiled bridges to a central patio with a large fountain in the center.
Along the colonnades is a series of 58 alcoves representing Spain’s provinces. Each is elaborately decorated with colorful tiles & includes a map of the province and a tile mural of something representative of it. Above each set of two white columns is a bust of a famous Spaniard. Finally, the ceramics & tile work on the bridges and some of the balustrades was quite compelling.
We drove back to Cadiz in the late afternoon sun. In Cadiz we drove past the Cathedral, the Ayuntamiento (city hall) and a building called the Palacio de Congresos. I took the latter to be something official, like the home of the legislature. But no, it just means conference hall; it is a hotel with conference facilities. It is, however, built on the foundation of Cadiz’s old tobacco factory (you will recall that Spain received the first tobacco in Europe when Columbus returned from his first voyage to America). One sight we did not glimpse was the Torre Tavira, the highest remaining tower of more than 160 that once stood in this area to watch for returning merchant ships as well as for pirates and other hostiles. Wealthy Cadiz was an obvious target; In 1587 Sir Frances Drake attacked the town, doing enough damage to delay the launch of the Spanish Armada by a year, and 11 years later the British succeeded in burning down the whole city. Cadiz was also the only city in Spain to avoid conquest by Napoleon, and in 1812 Spain’s first liberal constitution (attributing sovereignty to the populace rather than the king) was drafted here. From the ship (in fact from our window) we could see the top of the monument to the 1812 constitution. Unfortunately we didn’t have an opportunity to visit any of these sights in this interesting looking city . . . maybe next time!
As we sailed away from Cadiz there was a Cinco de Mayo party on the Lido deck, with the Lido crew all dressed up in Spanish outfits (even though this is a Mexican holiday). There was a huge vat of paella & other delights, along with colorful signs made of bread. Notable in these pictures is Willie, the friendly supervisor of the Lido crew who was always ready to come dish out ice cream for us every afternoon (an indulgence, yes, but this is a cruise!).
So that was the end of our long and rewarding day in Andalusia. We were leaving Europe & heading for home, but our adventures were not yet over, except for today. I will leave you for this episode with a few fruit & vegetable sculptures and catch up on the towel animals.
On May 2 we sailed into bustling Barcelona for an overnight stay. This was a perfect stop for an overnight since there is so much to see and do here. Really, I don’t think you can do it right in less than a week, but at least we had more than one day here. Barcelona is the capital of the Spanish province of Catalonia, an area with its own separate language and a relatively strong nationalist movement that seeks independence from Spain. It has (you have heard this before) a very long and involved history dating back to Roman times, and was a sea power as part of the kingdom of Aragon in the late middle ages and Renaissance. Our primary focus was the Modernista buildings of architect Antoni Gaudi but we found much more here to catch the eye. The one priority on our list to which you couldn’t realistically walk was Gaudi’s Park Guell, so we decided that on the first day we would use the HOHO (hop on hop off) bus and then stay on foot the second day. This turned out to be a good plan, but not without its unanticipated flaws.
So after breakfast in the Prinsendam restaurant (which makes superb French toast) on our first morning we boarded the shuttle bus that took us to a park at the base of Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian street running up from the harbor to Placa de Catalunya where we would board the HOHO bus. The 12 acre Placa de Catalunya is pretty much the center of town, situated where the old city walls, torn down in the 1850’s, once stood. We walked pretty quickly up Las Ramblas, two narrow streets with a broad pedestrian promenade in the center, lined on both sides with large Sycamores. It was not crowded in the early morning before most of the cafes and vendors’ booths were set up. We boarded the HOHO bus for the ride to La Sagrada Familia, the great church designed by Gaudi that is still under construction after about 130 years.
So what is Modernista, the characteristic architecture of Barcelona? I think after seeing the pictures you will have a feel for that. But basically it is the Catalonian version of Art Nouveau, and was rife in Barcelona from the late 1880’s to the beginning of World War I. It is characterized by curved lines rather than straight lines and square corners; by vivid colors and a variety of materials; by an inspiration from nature and by a lack of symmetry. But more than anything else it is characterized by originality and experimentation. There were a number of well-known and important Modernista architects in Barcelona in that period, but the foremost and best known was Antoni Gaudi. Born in the mid-19th Century, Gaudi was an odd duck: a very rigid conservative and a devout Catholic who designed buildings that look like psychedelic fantasies. My doctor described him as the Dr. Suess architect and I think that’s a pretty good description. He died in 1926 when run over by a streetcar, and recently there has been a movement to have him canonized as a saint.
La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s final project. It was begun in 1883 and at the time of Gaudi’s death only one of the facades (depicting the Nativity) had been largely completed. Gaudi lived on site for the last decade of his life (I told you he was a bit strange). Construction was halted in the mid 1930’s by the Spanish Civil War and didn’t resume in earnest until the 1950’s. Today two of the three planned facades are pretty much completed (Nativity and Passion), while the main entrance (the Glory façade) is nowhere near completion. The roof was completed in 2010, just in time for the Pope to visit & consecrate it as a Catholic Basilica (it is not a cathedral; we will see the Barcelona Cathedral later). You can see in the pictures that it is still surrounded by cranes and construction areas, but the goal is to complete the building by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. If they make it we hope we are still around and able to come and see it. Even in its current state La Sagrada Familia is nothing short of awesome. When completed it will have a central tower about a hundred feet taller than the current ones that will be topped by a lighted cross that will be visible far out to sea. It will be the tallest church in the world.
There are often long waits in line to get into La Sagrada Familia. You can buy a ticket ahead of time & skip the line, but you have to arrive at a set time of day and we weren’t sure we could do that. So we thought we might not be able to go inside. But upon arrival the line was relatively short, so we only had to wait about 20 minutes to get in, perhaps because it was still early in the tourist season. Anyway, you enter the church through the Passion façade, very severe in aspect, supported by angled pillars meeting in a narrow arch above the entry. On the wall above the door are sculptures representing scenes from Jesus’s last days & his crucifixion. The sculpture was begun in 1987 by a team led by a sculptor born after Gaudi died, so these were not designed by Gaudi although they follow his general plan.
Stepping inside this building is breathtaking. It is lined with pillars modeled on trees with branches at the top that come together in parabolic arches to support the roof. It is a gigantic space; it was very full of people but the space looked very empty because it was so tall. Everywhere you looked there were curved lines, very few straight lines or corners.
Inside the church we were approached by a guy who noticed my hat & told us he was a distant relative of Bob Castellini, the majority owner of the Cincinnati Reds. He said he had been in Europe for a while & asked how the Reds were doing (not too bad at the time). This was somewhat refreshing because in Turkey we had been approached several times by guys who thought my hat was a Chicago Cubs hat (Cubs hats are actually blue with a round C on them, entirely different from a Reds hat). One of them told us we should be rooting for the Blue Jays, which seemed pretty random to us!
The windows of the church are gradually being replaced by stained glass; Gaudi envisioned this as a fairly dark & contemplative space. But there is also a large and bright skylight in the ceiling.
Along the walls are a variety of stonework balconies, walkways & spiral staircases. The walkways have wrought iron railings in twisty designs.
Over the altar in the apse is a hanging figure of Jesus on the cross suspended under a lighted canopy, which made him look like he was hang gliding or skydiving. There is a pipe organ there as well. Eventually there will be several more organs with a total of 8,000 pipes that will be able to be played separately from their own keyboards or linked together so that they can all be played from a single keyboard. Under the altar was a crypt, where Gaudi is entombed (I think; he’s in this church somewhere), which has a chapel. There were windows just above the floor to look down in this space.
We left the building on the other side, through the Nativity façade. This was the one façade completed during Gaudi’s lifetime & under his supervision. It is much friendlier than the Passion façade; its style has been described as “cake left out in the rain” & in fact it does look like the stone is melting and dripping around the sculptures. The theme here is life affirming centered on the birth of Jesus, depicted in the top sculpture over the door. Above the façade is a “tree of life” with doves on it that really looks like a Christmas tree. The main pillars sit on a turtle and a tortoise, representing land and sea life. The sculpture includes musicians, angels, livestock present at Jesus’ birth. And nearby is another tower topped by a fruit basket.
We went around the church to catch the HOHO bus to the next stop on our itinerary, Park Guell, and discovered the biggest flaw in our time management plan: we weren’t the only people who were doing this (who would have guessed?). There was a VERY long line of people waiting for the HOHO bus & we stood in line watching bus after bus leave after boarding only a few people each.
But eventually we did get on a bus (although we had to sit inside instead of on top where there is a great view) & it took us to Park Guell. There was a very steep climb up to the park entrance from the bus stop, but it was well worth it. Built in the first 15 years of the 20th Century, his was originally intended to be part of a housing development for wealthy people that never panned out (only 2 houses were ever built). Guell was an aristocrat who was Gaudi’s most important patron. Most of the most recognizable architecture in the park is concentrated at the entrance.
On each side of the entrance is a building made of brown stone with roofs made of a variety of tiles with a large brown mushroomy object at the top. One of them has blue tower topped by a white cross (that one is the gift shop). They look like gingerbread houses with icing roofs.
The staircase features a number of colorful figures decorated in Gaudi’s signature mosaic style. He is famous for his technique of using broken shards of pottery or tile to make up a colorful and variable surface. The most famous of these staircase decorations is the salamander, called el drac (the dragon) by the locals, copies of which are for sale in most of the gift shops in Barcelona.
Above the stairway is a very large terrace supported by columns. The serpentine concrete bench with wildly varied mosaic decoration that surrounds the terrace is an iconic Gaudi creation. Last year in Lima, Peru we saw a bench wall in a park overlooking the water that was obviously inspired by this bench.
Park Guell is on top of a large hill overlooking the city toward the sea. From the terrace & several other points nearby there were breathtaking views.
On the other side of the terrace is a retaining wall holding up a road higher on the hill. The wall undulates somewhat and overhangs the terrace; I have seen the round structures at the top referred to as birds nests, although I think they really function as planters. There are several similar structures, made to blend with the landscape through the use of local stone and naturalistic design, that support roads intended to service the housing project. There are walkways underneath some of them; we saw some street performers in a couple of those spaces. We also saw Gaudi’s house for the last 20 years of his life (although I understand that during the last 10 years he mostly slept at Sagrada Familia). This was the show house for the project & Gaudi bought it because no one else was interested in moving here.
As you have glimpsed in some of the earlier pictures, the terrace is supported by a colonnade of fluted columns filling the space below the terrace like a forest. The ceiling is made of broken white tile with mosaic medallions between the columns. The view from inside looks down on the gingerbread buildings at the gate. Gaudi expected this to become a covered marketplace.
Finally we left, walking by the outside wall of the park with its mosaic top & another entrance to the park down the street. There also was a wall of intricate tiles (broken but still with coherent patterns) separated by white mosaic that was a little different. We walked back down the steep hill, then waited in the long line for the HOHO bus.
After we finally got on the bus (on top this time, thankfully) we headed for our next stop, Gaudi’s Casa Mila apartment block. But one thing about the HOHO bus is that you have to go through its entire circular route to get back to the beginning (no back and forth routes). This took a while, but it gave us a chance to see a lot more of Barcelona from the top of the bus. We saw a lot of interesting buildings you probably wouldn’t see elsewhere. I can’t identify most of them but we did drive past the Guell Pavilions built by Gaudi in the 1880’s. Its most famous feature (at least to me) is the iron dragon gate at the entrance.
Throughout the city are buildings (presumably residential) with interesting iron balconies, even if little else distinguishes them. This helps give the city a pleasant ambiance since there is always something new and interesting to see even on blocks lined with rows of apartment buildings.
We left the HOHO bus near the Casa Mila, a few blocks north of Placa Catalunya, to walk the rest of the way to the shuttle bus stop on the harbor. Casa Mila was an innovative building (for example, the first with underground parking) Gaudi finished in 1912. A large apartment building with undulating lines & curvy balconies with intricate iron railings, it is known locally as “La Pedrera” (the Quarry). It was very controversial at the time. Gaudi ignored city height limits and other regulations, which resulted in a drawn-out battle over fines and other administrative interference. When it was completed many of the neighbors were so incensed by what they considered an eyesore that would reduce their property values that they refused to speak to the owner, Mila, when passing on the street. Today it is, along with several other Gaudi buildings, a Unesco World Heritage site. In addition to the building’s innovative designs, the roof is in effect a sculpture garden populated with distinctive air vents and smoke stacks. One can visit the inside and the rooftop, but it is fairly expensive and the line was long. As it was getting late we did not take the time for a tour (next time!).
We walked a little way down the Passeig de Gracia to the Casa Batllo, another Gaudi creation. This building originally dates from 1877 but was completely refurbished by Gaudi in 1906 (the year the Casa Milo was begun). It reputedly represents the story of St. George & the dragon: the roof supposedly represents the dragon’s scaled & undulating back & the tower on the left with the cross represents St. George’s lance sticking into the dragon. Be that as it may, the building is completely unique, with multicolored pottery pieces giving the walls an impressionist cast & hardly a straight line in the whole building. Of all the Gaudi works we saw in Barcelona, this strikes me as the one that would be most at home in a Dr. Seuss book. Tours are available of this building as well, but again the long lines & late hour induced us to skip that. So much to come back for!
Casa Batllo is part of the Block of Discard, so called because it contains contrasting buildings by several of the more important Modernista architects. Next to Casa Batllo is the Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, which has a Flemish step roof façade and a bright yellow color. Next is the Casa Bonet, then Casa Mulleras and on the corner the Casa Lleó-Morera by Lluís Domènech.
We continued walking down Passeig de Gracia to Placa de Catalunya, passing several interesting buildings I can’t identify. I was particularly taken with a large building with a very bright orange turreted roof across the square from the Placa on the north. In the park is a fairly spectacular fountain, complete with statuary.
We walked down Las Ramblas (I will save all the Las Ramblas pictures to show at once) toward our last Gaudi landmark, the Palau Guell. But on the way we stopped for a gelato! Mmmm.
Refreshed, we walked on to Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s early works built mostly in the late 1880’s. It is on a narrow street, so pictures of the roof were not possible and we did not take the tour for reasons discussed earlier. It is very colorful and original, particularly for such an early date. The 2 large parabolic doors in the front with detailed iron work were to allow a horse & carriage to enter through one door and exit through the other. The doors led to the stable & guests would then walk up a flight of stairs to the living quarters. Between the doors is a large iron decoration that represents the Catalan coat of arms, a patriotic statement.
Tired but happy, we went back to the ship for dinner. After dinner was a performance by an impressive group of local musicians and dancers. Pretty compelling stuff, and a good time was had by all. Afterward we walked out on deck for a night view of the harbor, and then to bed.
The second day in Barcelona would be a short day since the ship was scheduled to depart at 4:30 & we had to be back to the shuttle well before then. Our plan was to go first to the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which is the old town of Barcelona, to see the Cathedral, then have breakfast at an outdoor café, then go to the Picasso museum, which is just beyond the Gothic Quarter. After that we wanted to do some shopping, since this was our last free day on the continent, at the market on Las Ramblas. Great plan for using our time except for one thing: there were other folks in town. In fact, several very large cruise ships arrived that morning with the result that we encountered many more tour groups than we had the day before. So, as I have said several times before, we will have to come back!
But that doesn’t mean the day was wasted. We started off fairly early toward the Gothic Quarter & the Cathedral. The first thing we came to was the Columbus statue on its extremely high column (almost 200 feet) at the beginning of Las Ramblas. Barcelona was the place where Columbus docked on returning from his first voyage to America (because Ferdinand & Isabella happened to be there at the time). Erected in 1888, it’s a pretty impressive monument, very tall and elaborate, and can be seen a long way away. It was being cleaned (or something) while we were there, so there were ropes & even a brightly colored covering for a worker on Columbus’s back. It reminded me of Gulliver tied down with the Lilliputians’ tiny ropes.
We walked through the narrow streets of the Barri Gotic to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross & St. Eulalia, usually just called the Barcelona Cathedral. There has been a cathedral on this spot for many hundreds of years but the current structure was built in the 14th and 15th Centuries (with the Neo-Gothic façade completed in the 19th). St. Eulalia, one of the patron saints of Barcelona (who is interred in this cathedral), is said to have been martyred by the Romans here, supposedly by being rolled down a hill in a barrel with knives sticking into it. The first part we came to was the cloisters, with a pool in the center, gargoyles on the walls & a nice view of the the tower of the cathedral. Wealthy merchants were buried in the floor so they could be close to the cathedral. It has been populated for hundreds of years by a gaggle of 13 white geese, said to represent Eulalia’s virginity & her age when martyred. They also served a security function since they would make a loud fuss if anyone entered at night. There are several gated chapels in the cloisters, the most popular dedicated to St. Rita, the patron saint of impossible causes.
We had to walk around to the front of the cathedral, facing a large square, to enter. The interior is quite majestic with a very high ceiling supported by pillars and the whole space bathed in a golden light. In the center was the elaborately carved wood and stone choir with wooden spiral peaks topped with crosses all along the top of its wall. After viewing the cathedral we had a continental breakfast at a sidewalk café across the square.
After breakfast we headed to the Picasso Museum. Picasso lived in Barcelona as a young man & this museum is reputed to have the best collection in the world from Picasso’s early years. It was harder to find than we expected (its in a sort of alley) so we walked some through the interesting Gothic Quarter, with its narrow streets, hidden plazas & old buildings. We found the street lights particularly interesting in this area. In fact, there is a great variety of interesting styles of street lamps throughout Barcelona; there are even a couple designed by Gaudi somewhere, although we didn’t see them. A very common sight is the Catalan flag flying from buildings, reflecting (I assume) secessionist views. During the Franco regime display of the Catalan flag was forbidden, so instead they flew the flag of the Barcelona soccer team which has a similar design.
When we finally found the Picasso Museum we discovered the second major flaw in our time management plan. There was a very long line waiting to get in, stretching far down the narrow street. This was partly the result of several very large cruise ships arriving over night; we saw many more organized tour groups than we had on the first day, often crowding the narrow streets and making it difficult to get by. So it turned out we should have come here first thing in the morning since it was not difficult to get into the cathedral. We waited in line for almost half an hour but the line had hardly moved, so we reluctantly moved on since we still had some shopping to do & a midafternoon deadline for returning to the ship.
Our next stop was the Palau de la Música Catalana, a concert hall opened in 1908. Designed by Modernista architect Lluís Domènech, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The exterior of the Palau de la Musica is a fabulous mixture of form and color, with mosaic columns, busts of composers, sculpted stone reliefs and very few straight lines. It is located at the intersection of two narrow streets and surrounded by mostly nondescript buildings, making it very difficult to get a view of the building as a whole; it really deserves a better setting. It turned out there was a long wait before an English tour that we could join, so we didn’t get to see the inside of this building. This was unfortunate because the concert hall itself is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the world, featuring a huge stained glass skylight in the middle of its ceiling. So, once again our time management plan came up short and we added another reason to return to Barcelona. I did manage to get a couple of pictures through the window of the vestibule, behind the wide red pillars surrounding the original entrance to the concert hall. Notice the tiny ticket window in one of the pillars.
In the 1980’s the building was restored and an adjacent building,formerly the headquarters of the Orfeo Catala, a choral society that originally financed the concert hall, was redesigned to house dressing rooms, a library & an archive. It has a brick façade which is carved into a relief of a tree going up the whole six stories. Visitors now mostly enter through the foyer, located in the first floor of this building, which also has tables and a bar serving refreshments to concert patrons. It is decorated in a style consistent with the concert hall.
As I mentioned we had some shopping we wanted to do, so we hustled over to the main market on Las Ramblas, the Mercat St. Josep. Unfortunately it turned out to be exclusively a food market. So there was another flaw in our time management plan (they are adding up, aren’t they). But even though there was nothing there for us to buy & take home, it was a very colorful place that was fun to explore, with aisle after aisle of kiosks.
We walked down Las Ramblas & had a late lunch at a sidewalk café. But before we get to that, this is a good place to show some of what can be seen while strolling Las Ramblas (in addition to the Mercat). As you can see, it is a wide pedestrian promenade shaded by Sycamores (called plane trees in Europe) lining each side. Outside the trees on each side is a narrow street with buildings on the outside of the streets. It runs from the Placa Catalunya at the top of the hill down to the Columbus column at the bottom. The walkway is constructed in a wavy pattern from side to side. During the day it is full of sidewalk cafes and kiosks selling flowers, gelato and other sundry items. Smack in the middle is a round abstract sidewalk decoration created by Miro, a Barcelona native (there is a Miro museum here, which we didn’t get to see . . . on this trip). A genuine original work of art by a modern master, folks walk over it without even looking, as if it were just a sidewalk. Across the street from the Miro is the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the city’s opera house. Built in 1847, the building has been restored twice after extensive fires. One of our favorite sights on this street was a wonderful dragon carrying an umbrella & a lantern that was hanging on the corner of a building that once was an umbrella factory. There are other interesting buildings all along this street, and at the bottom is, of course, our old friend Columbus (still in chains) & across the street the port headquarters in the old customs building. This is considered one of the great streets of Europe, and with good reason.
We stopped for lunch in a sidewalk café near the opera house called Café de L’Opera. We shared a large pizza with jambon (ham is a Barcelona specialty) & each had a beer. It was very good & the huge beer was served in a glass that looked like a globe. We were a little taken aback when the bill came, as it added up to about $50! I think a good part of that was to pay for the privilege of sitting in a prime spot on Las Ramblas, and we did enjoy that quite a bit. But by the time we finished it was too late to get a gelato & we had to hurry down to the shuttle bus stop at the port end of the street, which was more challenging than it should have been because of all the food & beer we had just finished. But we made it onto the next-to-last shuttle bus & back to the ship on time. As you can probably tell by the length of this episode, delightful Barcelona was truly one of the highlights of the trip.
We visited these two islands on April 30 & May 1. But before getting to them I am going to introduce you to our last set of table mates, who all boarded in Rome & were with us until we reached Fort Lauderdale. It was a diverse group judging by residence: Linda & Doug live in Waco, Texas; Tish & John live on Long Island; Anne & Jim live in the Bahamas. We were lucky again to have a table full of interesting & enjoyable people, a circumstance that can really make a difference on a cruise, and we had a very good time together. One of these pictures was taken by Doug, for obvious reasons. It was formal night or we wouldn’t have been dressed like that!
So as I said before, we arrived off Alghero, Sardinia (Italy) on the morning of April 30. Unfortunately, the captain decided the sea was too rough to tender ashore so we didn’t get to visit the town. It was misty & the sea wasn’t entirely calm, but it didn’t look that bad to me, but of course it was not my decision to make and if I were responsible for the well-being of all these folks I might look at it differently. I guess if we had to miss one I would rather it be Alghero than Rome or Athens, but we were disappointed because Sardinia is a place we might never get back to. Anyway, all I have is pictures from the ship. The first two were taken before we reached Alghero & I thought they were of islands or remote cliffs, but it turns out that at least one of them (the second one) was of a place called Capo Caccia not far from Alghero, which is an area full of underwater and partially submerged caves, the most famous of which is called Neptune’s Grotto.
On May 1 we arrived at Mahon, the capital of Spanish Menorca (or Minorca) in the Balearic Islands. Today this is essentially a resort town, but it has a very long & involved history. The city is thought to have been named after Hannibal’s brother Mago Barca who took refuge here in the 3rd Century BC. It has been part of the Roman & Byzantine empires, ruled by the Moors of Spain & the French, and was independent for a period as well. Looking at this placid waterside city you would never guess that it more than once it has been plundered and its entire population slaughtered or sold into slavery, once in the 16th Century by the pirate Barbarossa (“red beard”) operating under the auspices of the Ottomans. Many of its citizens are descendants of Catalans who settled here while Menorca was under the rule of the kingdom of Aragon in Spain, & Catalan is the primary language here. The island was ruled by the British during most of the 18th Century & Mahon still displays its legacy of Georgian architecture. Mahon is also reputedly the birthplace of of the salad dressing called mayonnaise.
Right next to the ship was the grand staircase & S-shaped road that are the main entrance to Mahon from the dock. It was a steep climb but we made it up OK.
At the top of the stairway is a large attractive plaza, Placa Espanya. One can look down from there on the cliffs & stairway & harbor. On one side is the 18th Century Iglesia del Carme, which I think is a cathedral. Unfortunately we were there on Spanish Labor Day so most things were closed, including this church. In fact the whole city seemed pretty abandoned. But in the old cloisters of the church is a marketplace called Mercat del Claustre del Carme that was open, although pretty quiet because of the holiday. There was a nice large courtyard surrounded by the church & the market in which movies are shown on summer nights.
Not far away, just beyond the other side of Placa Espanya, is the Church of Santa Maria. It was built in the 13th Century & renovated during the British occupation in the 18th Century. It is a nice church, but its best feature is its pipe organ, sporting 4 keyboards and more than 3,000 pipes, which was transported precariously across war-torn Europe in 1810. There are organ concerts in the summer but not when we were there.
We walked around town for a while. The Georgian architecture is less than exciting, although I have read that this is the only place in Spain where you will see it. The streets were pretty devoid of life, apart from Prinsendam folks wandering around like we were. We did see the Teatro, or opera house, looking rather plain from the outside although it supposed to be opulent on the inside (yes, it was closed). And we saw the Puerto de San Roque, a 14th century gate to the city that is all that is left of the walls built to protect the city from pirates and invaders.
We walked to an overlook on the edge of the cliff near our ship, beneath which was a narrow road that zigzags down to the port level below.
Having seen enough of this pleasant but unexciting town, we walked back down the stairway, noticing the nice fauna by the cliffs on the way, and had a late lunch on the ship.
We left in late afternoon. Mahan’s harbor is 3 miles long & is the second deepest natural harbor in the world. It was one of the most important, and most fought over, harbors in the Mediterranean for many hundreds of years. Sailing through it feels more like being on a wide river than in a harbor. On its shores are military fortresses, wealthy homes, waterfront housing developments and a good bit of scenery.
We passed by Hospital Island on which sits one of the oldest Royal Navy hospitals in the world, built early in the 18th Century & used until 1964. In the 13th Century King Alphonso III landed on this island to begin his successful campaign to take Minorca from the Moors. We also saw Illa del Llatzeret on which is a large fortified quarantine hospital built in the 18th Century. This was a peninsula until about 1900 when a canal was dug to turn it into an island so it would be more difficult for infectious patients to escape. The hospital closed in 1917. We also saw Fortaleza del Mola, built by Spain in the 19th Century to defend the harbor. Actually, a hilltop fortress is visible in several of these pictures that may be different views of Fortaleza del Mola. Finally we sailed by the steep rocky cliffs at the mouth of the harbor & into the Mediterranean.
This was our last night with Kiki, who had been our waiter at dinner (and often at breakfast) since we left Fort Lauderdale. He is a delightful fellow, quick with a quip and a smile, whose company we really enjoyed. He really made a difference for us on this lengthy cruise. He was leaving the ship in Barcelona for a well deserved vacation at home with his wife and lovely baby daughter. We hope he had a wonderful time & that we will meet him again on a future sailing.
That’s pretty much it for our stay in Menorca, which was more about relaxing than sightseeing. But Barcelona is next, which will not be like that at all. We haven’t had any towel animals or food sculptures in a while, so I will leave you with a few of those.