Land Ho!

Saw the first land in eight or nine days this morning as we arrived in St Maarten. Two RCL ships docked here too- Serenity of the Seas is behind Jewel of the Seas. SOTS left Barcelona a day before us-I think they stopped in the Azores on the way here.

Crossing was uneventful and relaxing. Read all my books (as did Mike) and had to borrow one!

It’s hot and humid! Wandered onto land for a bit, but now back aboard headed to the pool. Love a day with most everyone off the ship!

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Sagrada Familia.

Mike and I visited Barcelona in the 1990s as part of a whirlwind 10 day trip that included Madrid. At that time, Sagrada Familia only had Nativity and Passion entrances, and the towers associated with them. There was no roof over and hardly any columns in the nave. We had intended to visit the interior when we were in Barcelona last May with Mike’s brother and his family. However, I apparently failed to hit the purchase button to buy the tickets so we wandered the outside while they toured inside.

Thankfully we had a second chance and we really enjoyed our morning inside the basilica. I rarely get emotional over architecture but that wasn’t the case here. It is an incredible building. On a macro scale it is powerful but the details are really striking. No matter where you look, you see something new, innovative and inspiring. Unfortunately the pictures can’t give you the full impression. If you have the opportunity, please go. I know we hope to be around to make it back after they complete it (only 10 more towers to go!) in 2026…of course I think when we visited 25-30 years ago they hoped to have it done by 2010 or something…so we will see how it goes.

Below are pictures of the altar, the nave including the incredible effect of the stained glass windows.

We also visited the sacristy, the space used to store the priests supplies and vestments and where they prepare for mass. As a former altar boy, where we used a closet for a similar purpose, I hope you will trust me when I say Gaudi created the most beautiful space I’ve ever seen-he also designed the storage units.

As some readers may recall, when we were in Barcelona previously we had a wonder tapas experience at a little restaurant near our hotel and the Triumphal Arc, Elsa y Fred. Six other couples from the larger Cruise Critic that rode the metro together from the port to the church joined us to walk to the restaurant for lunch. While delicious, Mike and I agreed we wished we had of just ordered tapas rather than the meal of the day. Each of the three courses had two offerings so we had all six dishes and just halfed and halfed then between us. Of course we had to have their delicious octopus..and it was just as good as we remembered!

Appetizers were a delicious pea soup and a salad.

The main dishes were risotto with seafood and a really tasty sausage plate. Unfortunately no pictures of dessert.

After lunch we headed through the Gothic Quarter towards La Rambla, the pedestrian street that runs for many blocks. Along the way we happened upon a beautiful performance palace. I would like to go back and tour it’s interior. We also happened upon an ancient church which was the polar opposite (by just as impressive in its simplicity) to Sagrada Familia.

After getting to La Rambla, we wandered it back towards the port. All in all a wonderful day and a good walk-5.9 miles!

While I used the port terminals WiFi to post some overdue blogs, Mike went aboard and learned we wouldn’t be leaving as scheduled due to the weather predictions at Funchal. I’m writing this a week later in the middle of the Atlantic and the ship is still full of rumors as to whether it was the weather or the repairs that delayed us. Who knows and frankly I don’t really care.

We discussed using the extra day in Barcelona to explore some more of the city but that long walk the day before took it out of us and after not waking until almost 10 am, we elected to treat it as a sea day and do what we now do best. Nada!

Tuscany.

I had always thought that those glorious views of Tuscany you see in travel magazines were all taken from only one or two spots. Well after our three days of driving to, through and from Tuscany, let me tell you the whole place looks likes those pictures (well except for a few industrial areas). It was just beautiful even though we were in and out of sprinkling rain for most of the time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We left Modena on Saturday morning (boy driving in a city in daylight and on a weekend is MUCH easier than at night at weekday rush hour!) headed for Lucca. The non toll routing provided by the car’s navigation system took us up and down and up and around some teeny tiny roads through the mountains. While beautiful, it was a hoot when we hit some tiny village and had to do a 12 point turn to make a right turn in the middle of the town. We stopped at one place along the way and bought some 40 month old Parmesan-omg, so good and only 7 bucks or so a pound. Wish we could fit a wheel in the suitcase!

At the top of the mountains we stopped at a ski resort for a break and a hot chocolate and saw snow!

In the drive down the other side we came across the medieval footbridge, Pont de Magdalena. I’m still trying to figure out what was being brought down the river from the mountains that needed such a high arch.

From there we arrived shortly in Lucca to find some sort of Comic-Con or Halloween festival going on. We drive around this walled city but the nearest parking was a mile away so we decided it wasn’t going to be possible to do a quick stop for lunch and elected to head on.

While being in Italy on a long holiday weekend had its advantages (chocolate festival!), it also impacted our trip. Places that typically wouldn’t have been crowded on a Thursday or Friday were (Sirmione) and I think the crowds were bigger at the villages in Tuscany over the weekend that they would have been otherwise.

We stopped for a quick sandwich in a suburb of Lucca and then continued to San Gimignano. This walled town is a wonderful memory from my time in graduate school in Genova. After spending a rushed two days in Florence trying to see everything an architectural student should see, our group of 9 spent a night in this village of towers in 1981. Rather than having to see things, we were able to just “be”. When we exited the only really nice Hotel we stayed in that semester on that Sunday morning, we walked onto the Piazza Cisterna (water well) to find a very blonde (Finnish?) brass quartet sitting around the well playing. Other than the four of them and the nine of us, it was like we had the whole town to ourselves. Over his objections, we all told our professor we weren’t leaving quite yet and pulled out our sketchbooks so he wouldn’t keep complaining and enjoyed an extra hour in what was then a magical place.

Unfortunately like all places, tourists are now all over town and we arrived to find a market taking place everywhere because of the holiday weekend. Needless to say it wasn’t peaceful but it was picturesque. We had a jarra (pitcher) of the local white wine and shared a cheese plate while people watching in the piazza before leaving for Staggia our home for the final two nights in Italy.

Our Airbnb in Staggia was in a renovated fortress and in addition to a wonderful loggia was at the ground floor so no toting of bags up stairs! Our only complaint was the bed was really really low-it was like they had taken the typical low IKEA bed we have had in a number of places and cut the legs off!

None of us were overly hungry so Mike and I ate the salad we had bought in Milan and been carrying around with us. After dinner Mike and I went exploring around our place and came across a bakery with the biggest croissants I’ve ever seen. We should have bought one to share for breakfast but didn’t so I can say whether it’s taste was as grand as it’s size.

On Saturday morning we headed to Sienna. It was a raining on and off so we elected to only do a quick walk through the Campo, Sienna’s major piazza and have a cup of coffee under an almost rainproof awning before heading back to the parking lot outside the walls (and down five escalators!).

This grand space is the location of the Palio horse race. While it would be incredible to see this 90 second race (3 times around) I don’t think I could deal with the claustrophobia of being one of the 50,000 spectators!

The square is dominated by the tower on the City Hall. Across from it, is the fountain where running water was first brought into the city. I was amazed that the drain at the bottom of the plaza wasn’t larger given how much water it must handle.

From Sienna we headed towards Montalcino, one of many wine villages. This walled town was the location today if some sort of scavenger hunt so there were lots and lots of runners climbing up and down the steps and hills getting their cards stamped. We enjoyed walking through the town and had a light lunch of a shared wine, meat and cheese tasting.

Afterwards we headed off to Montepulciano another wine town. It was the first town in days without a festival! Like the others the interior and exterior views were great. Mike and I agreed that next time we are in Tuscany, we want to spend two or three weeks in one of these small towns and really get to know them.

We returned to the apartment and finished up the two bottles of wine we had purchased in San Gimignano before heading half a block down the street for our final Italian dinner.

We had a great time with Roberto our host, waiter and son of the chef and chefess. We were the only non Italians in the 24 seat restaurant and were made to feel right at home. Before long the place was full and it was obvious that both the staff and the guests believed in having s good time.

Peggy had chicken liver pate with onions and anchovies as her starter along with her bottle of white wine. The pate was good even for this non liver lover.

Lowell had pici (a local pasta that is like a twisted spaghetti-each piece is made by hand – with tomato and LOTS of garlic. Very tasty!

Mike and I split a bowl of pappardelle in Mom’s meat sauce. Delicious!

For her dinner, Peggy had pici with anchovies and breadcrumbs. She loves her anchovies. It was great though we don’t have a picture.

Lowell, Mike and I split a Steak Florentine-1.3 kilos (46 ounces) of deliciousness.

Along with the steak we had a salad and a platter of the best potatoes ever. The were thinly (but obviously hand done) sliced and fried with garlic, sage and lots of salt. The picture below is after we had all eaten a handful. So so good!

Peggy is celebrating her 39th birthday (we don’t ask what anniversary of her 39th!) later in the cruise and after much wine (we were intrigued with how Roberto left the cork attached to the bottle) Lowell told Roberto about it and he brought out a birthday dessert and the whole restaurant sang Happy Birthday in Italian to Peggy.

As you can see in the picture above, guests sign the restaurant’s wall which we did and Lowell gave Roberto a $2 bill to paste on the wall with his.

Roberto brought us all grappa to end our dinner. None of us needed it and given we had to wake P&L up the next morning (they typically are very early risers) methinks they may have been overserved!

Our trip to Cittivechia the next day was uneventful and we boarded the ship by 1 pm.

3 Days in Barcelona.

The Captain just announced that we aren’t leaving Barcelona tonight as the revised schedule to allow for the repairs called for. They “say” it isn’t the repairs that is keeping us ashore, rather it is “swells in the Atlantic”. Our port stop in Madeira is canceled (not a huge concern to us since we were just on this Portuguese island in March) though I do worry about having enough gas!

The only downside as far as I am concerned is that we have to go ashore tomorrow morning to get our passports stamped as leaving the EU since that won’t get done in Madeira and we are being charged Spanish sales tax on our drinks while docked. #FirstWorldProblems

Modena. (Or is there ever too much chocolate?)

not sure why (bad Spanish Internet? But all the pictures in this post aren’t loading. So sorry but here is the text.

We left Milan early in the morning and headed towards Modena our next resting spot. But first we had a hilltop town, two more lakes and a castle to see.

Our first stop was Bergamo. Mike and I had visited here last June so when we arrived and found parking near the upper city (Alta Citta) impossible, I dropped Mike, Lowell and Peggy (hereafter M,P&L) off at the upper gate and I drove to the lower gate of this walled city and sat in the car while M,P&L walked through town. They went into the Duomo but otherwise basically did a quick walk through.

From there we headed to Iseo ( on Lake Iseo) for a quick stop on our way to Lake Garda.

Peggy had selected Sirmione as our next stop. This town is on a peninsula that extends into Lake Garda. At the midpoint is the peninsula is Castello Scaligero which was built in the 14th century.

The medieval town and lake surrounding the castle are beautiful and could easily be used for a Disney movie.

We had a delicious lunch. Mike and I halfed and halfed lasagne and a local cod dish with polenta. While tasty I was disappointed that the polenta was grilled and not more liquid. Unfortunately we were both apparently too busy eating to take any pictures. sorry.

After lunch we continued onto Modena. Due to parking issues in Sirmione we needed up leaving later than planned which meant it was after dark when we got to Modena. We had difficulty locating our airbnb (the holiday festival and one way streets only raised my frustration level) but after a couple of phone calls to the host we finally found the right address and checked into our lovely home for the next two nights.

The apartment was located within the historic center which made driving difficult and after that stress of the previous night my passengers suggested and I readily agreed to trashing our plans to visit Verona and some other nearby towns and instead spend the next day in Modena.

Of course, after we discovered that there was a chocolate festival literally at our doorstep with vendors’ stalls for the next eight or ten blocks we knew we made the right decision! For dinner that night we basically had chocolate albeit not shoes or handcuffs!

The next morning we visited the Grande Plaza with the Duomo and the City Hall. We also went inside to the the “historic rooms” of the City Hall. Including a very old organ.

From the main square it was only half a block to the city market. As usual incredible sights, smells and tastes-including porcetta and prosciutto!

It had started sprinkling as we left the market so we headed towards the Ferrari Museum. Along the way we passed the Ducal Palace which was covered in scaffolding-but here it is as well a the view from it across its piazza towards Duomo.

Enzo Ferrari was born in Modena and started his empire in the building below which houses a display about his life and various engines.

The old garage is surrounded by a modern building which was inspired by the boot of a Ferrari.

The main display has cars from all eras. The space itself is very interesting-sloped floor from top to bottom in a curve and with a huge projection system where they show a film on Ferrari’s life and the history of the brand and team.

Of course there is a gift shop and Cafe which was in the curved part of the building looking out on the historic garage.

As always I love the juxtaposition of ancient and contemporary:

After a wet walk in the rain Back to the apartment we called it a day and ate our market purchases for supper.

I am posting this from the Barcelona cruise terminal after a beautiful day. I’ll do a full Barcelona post in the future but here is a teaser of the inside of Sagrada Famila. OMG it’s astounding. What a change from when we were here in the mid 1990s and it didn’t have a roof or windows or full height columns! (Oh, no filter used!)

They had the hole in the ship repaired when we got off this morning and were in the process of painting it but Mike just texted from onboard and the rumor is we may not be leaving until tomorrow. No biggie-what else do I have to do?