Final Thoughts

After several weeks to contemplate our spring trip, I think all three of us will say it was most enjoyable.

Mike and I enjoyed our return to Viking and noticed some differences none of which negatively impacted our time onboard. The food portions seemed to be slightly smaller which given all the good food available was appreciated by our waist lines. This transatlantic seemed to be more crowded than last year but perhaps that was due to us eating earlier than just us two would normally do. We don’t know whether it is a cruise line initiative or simply the difference between Hotel Directors, Chefs and Cruise Directors but there were many more “special” events this year-pool side lunches (Cesar Salad, Mexican, etc.), pool side events (two or three dance parties, ship building competition), Port Greetings when we returned to the ship, Sunday Brunch in the Winter Garden and of course this year they made an event out of our passing of Gibraltar-even though it was still too dark to really see it.

We missed having the Virginia Gentleman aboard but the entertainers did a fine job despite there being two less singers and no dance couple. The shows seemed a little more professional and used the show band more than the prerecorded music that was typical last spring. There was at least one more lecturer than last trip and their topics were more diverse as well as interesting. There was also a bridge instructor on this crossing which I don’t recall from last time.

You may recall that part of the last minute deal we got was to pay for the lowest category cabin -Veranda (V) and reside in a higher category – Deluxe Veranda (DV). The staterooms are identical except the DV comes with a coffeemaker. I thought this would be great but turns out I only used it once. The other differences are “soft” ones-the sodas in the fridge get replenished daily and we could make reservations for the alternative dining venues before we boarded. Since one staying in a Veranda could replenish the soft drinks by asking at the bar during meal time for an extra can or three and we ended up changing all our reservations once onboard (so as not to miss lobster nights) I don’t think the perks of a DV would be worth paying any extra. Guess we are just too frugal. But when offered for free, they were great!

We also enjoyed the included airfare although I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get to see whether we could deal with long haul economy if it was “free”. Well maybe not really disappointed, the ice cream sundae in AA business class fixed that!😂

The Viking officers and crew were just as friendly and helpful as previously, the room lovely and we continue to think that Viking is a great value for their repositioning cruises. Lois really enjoyed herself and now is sold on the benefits of smaller ships. Having John the Scotsman aboard and his friendliness to her and willingness to have two special meals made just for her probably helped in this regard.

Of course no one aboard will ever forget the Great April Fool’s Day Toilet Paper Fiasco! LOL

Our post cruise time in Barcelona was great as it was in Rome. I think the highlight for Lois in both was Sagrada Familia and I certainly was blown away again by it. Even though it had only been 6 months since our last visit, we saw progress so maybe they will be finished with construction by 2026 as they are predicting (while crossing their fingers according to our guide).

Thanks for following along, hope you enjoyed it as much as we did…and that you will stay with me as I blog about our upcoming North American roadtrip (hopefully with a cruise to Japan 😲🤞thrown in). We leave Danville on Friday headed for DC and don’t expect to be back to the southeast coast until Christmas. Stay tuned for details…

Leaving Barcelona

Checked out and left the apartment about 10:15 am, taxied go the airport ($40 with luggage), bags checked for our RyanAir flight (no line!), quick trip through security (though Mike had to get swabbed) and in the Priority Pass Lounge (courtesy of my Chase Sapphire Card) at 11:25 am.

Enjoyed a sandwich first and since it’s now “after lunch” I can have a G&T and some corn nuts. Who knew you could find corn nuts in Spain???

Leave for Roma at 1:05, hopefully we will be on time.

Barcelona Day Four

We had a relaxing day just enjoying Barcelona today. We took the metro to The Arc of Triumph and from their walked down the promenade to the City Park-Parc Ciuadella.

Before going into the park we stopped for lunch. We were worried we were going to end up with a bad touristy lunch but not only was it less expensive that our La Rambla meal yesterday and so much better. Lois had a sandwich with bacon, fried egg, cheese, and tomato along with Patas Braves which she had discovered she likes better then French fries. Mike and I each had the menu of the day. We halfed and halfed the starters (and Lois had some discovering she liked goat cheese and artichokes) of a delicious goat cheese & nut salad and fried artichokes. Yum!

Being the former Valencians that we are, we hesitated before ordering the restaurants specialty, Duck Paella. Luckily we were pleased with the choice. Lois even liked it though you can tell it from the picture below.

We then tried to walk off our lunch through the park. It was a beautiful day and there were lots of Barcelonians out enjoying that day and park with us.

We even saw some wild parakeets!

We returned to the apartment and Lois packed her suitcase. Turns out it was 14 pounds over the weight RyanAir allows (we fly them to Rome tomorrow) so we moved enough of her important stuff to our suitcases. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room for all the toiletries she poached from Viking….so looks like the hotel maid here in Barcelona will have some nice products to use!

Barcelona Day 2

As longtime readers will recall, Mike and I were in Barcelona last November (2018) during our transatlantic cruise. I’m not going to post many pictures on this post but you can read and see lots of pictures about Barcelona here: 3 Days in Barcelona.

This visit was to let Lois see a city that she has heard about from both of us as well as her other son Chris and his family after their visit last May. When Mike and I toured Sagrada Familia last, we used their audio guides and were pleased with the commentary. This year we elected to have a live guide and I also enjoyed hearing her commentary. However,I think I preferred the audio guide as I was able to move at my own speed. With the live guide, we went through the whole facility relatively quickly (50 minutes) and then went back and revisited some spaces. The best part of the live guide was being able to ask questions. Whichever method you do, either will be educational.

We got to see the entire nave this time all the way to the front doors. This was the first time I had seen the holy water fonts.

I hope we will be back to see it completed. Below is a photo of the model showing it finished. They say the building will be done by 2026 (they say it with their 🤞) but our guide said it will take more years to have the decoration of the Glory (front) facade finished. I predict it will finally be finished in 2052 to celebrate Gaudi’s 200th Birthday so I fear I won’t be around and if I am, not sure at 94 I’ll be up to coming😢😂

But even if it’s not finished, it is so incredible outside and in!

From Sagrada Familia, we walked a few blocks to a local Catalana restaurant recommended by TripAdvisor hoping for a meal of the day. Unfortunately they only served tapas and main courses (no sides or salads🤪) but what we had was very tasty.

This is Lois’ “pork chop” which we all decided was bbq ribs. Very tasty, the sauce had cinnamon and honey. The second dish was a “Catalana Roast”-pork, meatballs and chicken. It too was tasty.

The Owner’s husband was our greeter and waiter and he shared with us the legend behind each of the cartoons on the placemat. We laughed the most about Caganer. It is a figurine whose name translates as The Crapper or even more literally, The Sh*tter! Apparently he is to remind us that what the earth gives us we give back. It is traditional for him to be hidden in large nativity scenes much like we hide a pickle on a Christmas tree. In modern times, you can buy Caganers with the faces of political or sports figures. We can’t wait to wait until it’s time to set up our nativity!

After lunch we returned to our apartment and had a much needed salad for supper!

Barcelona Day Three

We continued Lois’ introduction to Antoni Gaudi by visiting the apartment building he built for the Mila Family. The family’s quarters were on the first floor above ground known as the noble floor. Above that door were four floors with four apartments on each floor.

Gaudi pulled out all the stops and created a building very different from the others on this street where all the best people in Barcelona in the early 1900s lived. Because of its unusual form, it became known as the rock pile or La Pedrera in Catalan. Apparently it was only the turn of the century Barcelonans!

In addition to the exterior undulations, Gaudi decorated the chimneys and exhaust vents. Climbing across the roof is like visiting a cartoon land.

Gaudi even framed a view of his masterpiece which was barely under construction at the time.

From the roof, one descends downstairs into the attic. Here it is easy to see Gaudi’s genius using nature’s forms to help him construct spaces. This was truly an eye opening space.

The attic is used to exhibit Gaudi’s ideas and his furniture design. Like his buildings, the furniture is designed with ergonomics in mind. For the chairs, he used clay to see how the armrest and hand holds should be shaped. He did the same thing in creating door knobs and cabinet pulls inside the apartment.

From the attic we toured one of the fourth floor apartments. The attention to detail was incredible. The floor in the Maids’ areas are paved with a beautiful concrete tile (now also used in homage on the street outside), while the residents’ areas have beautiful parquet floors. The common corridors are terrazzo.

The ceilings and door frames have interesting natural shapes.

The entire apartment is furnished in the style appropriate to when it was opened. It was a great insight into life in Barcelona at the time-at least for the wealthy!

From the fourth floor we descended the service stairs which were also beautiful done, because as the Audioguide told us, “the residents had to use these when the elevators failed”.

The tour ended in the second of the two courtyards. Like the first one where we began the tour, it served as the entrance for the residents whose apartments were on this side of the building and for their automobiles down into the garage. Additionally, the courtyards provide light to the interior spaces of each apartment. The intent with the columns and the nature references was to create the feeling of being in a park. They are truly beautiful.

From Casa Mila, we headed to La Rambla, the pedestrian Main Street of Barcelona. We had a tasty lunch at a sidewalk cafe that we realized must of been the Applebee’s of Spain after we saw another outlet in the next block!

After lunch we continued down La Rambla and experienced a protest parade-we think against the Morocco mafia who have kidnapped a large number of men.

And saw a suit I wish I had the nerve to wear-those are pineapples and there were little sharks on his shirt!

From there we went to the Cathedral so we could watch the folk dancing.

Mike and I realized that the elderly folks we were watching may have been the middle aged ones we watched twenty odd years ago on our first visit to Barcelona when we happened upon this weekly event by accident

While I’m sure the dancing is important, it appears to me that the weekly social connection is the most important part of this wonderful activity.

After our busy day (given we didn’t leave the apartment until noon) we all headed back to the apartment where Mike made us a beautiful platter of ham & cheese and olives for supper which Lois and I augmented with some Russian salad and crostini. We enjoyed the buffet with the “welcome to the hotel” cava.

Palau de la Musica Catalana

OMG! The Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona is amazing! The glass walls and the skylight plus the ceramics, light fixtures and sculpture. Just WOW.

The concert was equally impressive. We heard three pieces of music. A fine but nothing to write home about introduction, a Catalonian piece which premiered in this hall seven or eight years after Franco took control and outlawed the Catalan language, and Beethoven’s 2nd which he wrote just after he learned he was going deaf. Despite this it is a cheerful and uplifting piece.

The Catalan Concierto de Aranjuez was that most impressive. It is for guitar and symphony. The guitar soloist was Juan Manuel Canizares and while he was great with the concerto, after multiple curtain calls, he play an encore that was I believable. I don’t understand how he got the sounds out of it-it sounded like two or three guitars at some points.

We all enjoyed the concert greatly as well as the building.

Tomorrow morning Lois gets introduced to Antonio Gaudi at Sagrada Familia. If her reaction when we walked by the back of it to catch our taxi to the concert is any indication, she is going to be as amazed. Her first statement was “I’ve never seen anything like that before”.

Which is certainly true!

Barcelona

I put together a group that totaled 11 from our CruiseCritic roll call and we had a nice van that picked all of is us (and our luggage) at the ship after disembarkation 😢 and drive us with a great guide to Montserrat, the serrated mountain with a monastery about an hour from Barcelona pictured above at the entrance and below when we first saw it from the freeway.

During the curvy drive up we could see the snow covered Pyrenees and maybe even France.

The town itself is very small, really only a hostel, small hotel, a cafeteria, a museum and of course a gift shop. Our guide explained that prior to four or five years ago, few visited except pilgrims coming to see the Black Madonna (carved of wood and blacked by centuries of candlesoot). The whole area is now a protected park and is full of hiking trails and of course mountain climbing possibilities.

The primary purpose of our visit was to hear the boy’s choir. It was impressive to hear the pipe organ and the choir in the beautiful church.

The Madonna is in the small apse way above the altar. Here is a slightly closer view. There are two people (who waited in a VERY long line) standing in front of her so they can reach thru plexiglas and touch her. The legend is that when you touch her you touch the Universe.

The church is very beautiful thought most of it had to be rebuilt after Neapolitan destroyed the original area.

We had hoped to be able to take a funicular to the very top of Montserrat but the lines were crazy long and our time was limited. Always leave something for the next trip right?

We had a beautiful day and I certainly enjoyed it. Our guide was very informative and at the end our tour as he was taking each of us to our hotels he explained that the real importance of Montserrat to the Catalonians is because it was the one place where the Catalan culture was kept alive during the time of Franco. He says that often you see people who weren’t allowed to speak Catalan during those times at home crying when they visit Montserrat. They recognize the importance it had to letting their culture live today.

We arrived at our hotel about 3. We have a two bedroom/two bath apartment one block from Sagrada Familia. Mike and I stayed here over twenty years ago (it was brand new then) with our friends Scott & Robert.

Later tonight we are going to a concert and tomorrow we tour Sagrada. Will hopefully be a fun time.

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!

There’s a hole in our ship!

Two weeks or so ago we relieved an email from Norwegian Cruise Lines informing us of an itenerary change. Rather than arriving in Barcelona at 5 am on Wednesday and departing at 5 pm, we would arrive at 6 pm Tuesday night (today) and not leave until 8 pm. This change was required “in order to complete some technical repairs not impacting the safety of the ship”. No skin off our backs, extra time in Barcelona sounded fine by us. But wondered what was going to be repaired.

After we docked, Clay was sitting in the room at the desk with the balcony door open and was startled by the window washing apparatus going by with its driver who laughed and waved when Clay screamed like a girl. Turns out the apparatus was being moved to help out with this repair but we didn’t realize it until after dinner when we returned to the room to find the side of the ship bathed in work lights, two cranes and a hoard of hard hats lifting a crankshalf into a newly cut hole in the ship (above the waterline thank goodness) and two other hardhats grinding away on the removed hull portion presumably preparing it for reinstallation.

You can’t tell from the pictures but there a section of deck inside the hole has been removed so that the new crankshaft can be delicately maneuvered to the lower deck. Clay took the pictures below, some from our balcony but most from the pier. While ashore he got to talking to a retired nuclear plant engineer who had pictures of the old crankshaft sitting (in five pieces) on the pier in Civittivechia before he boarded. Apparently it had been cut into chunks aboard and then removed through already existing openings. According to this guy, the ship has five generators, three for the engine (need two for full speed), one to run the ship, and one spare. So I guess they were right when it said it wouldn’t affect safety.

Fingers crossed that they don’t drop the crankshalf before they get it fully aboard…or drop the hull portion overboard before they get it rewelded onto the ship!

But at the rate they are going-the crankshaft is now inside the ship (it is 11:10 pm) it looks like Norwegian had done great planning and logistics.Though I’m sure some folks will be complaining about that noise and lights. I hope the grinding is about done so I won’t be one of the complainers.

Views from the pier:

The view from our balcony:

Barcelonai

You may be saying to yourself, “Self, I don’t recall Clay mentioning Barcelona when he told me about his year of travel.” and you would be right!  We hadn’t planned on visiting Barcelona this trip (well at least once we decided we couldn’t afford to spend our month in Spain there).  But Mike’s brother Chris and his wife Jen along with their daughter Rebecca and her boyfriend Karol (Pronounced Karl – he is polish) decided to celebrate Rebecca’s graduate school graduation with a week in Barcelona.  We had to get from Sofia to Lisbon and that entailed a stop somewhere and Barcelona was just as good as Milan and lots better than Frankfurt, so we modified our Airbnb stays and spend four nice days with them.

We arrived at the Hotel Rec (which Chris found and we loved) around 8 pm on Saturday night and the others arrived around 1 pm on Sunday.  Mike and I spent Sunday morning wandering through the park below the Arc d’triumph (who knew Barcelona had one too?) and got back to the hotel as they were arriving.

We all went and had a late lunch and then the travelers checked in and took naps until that evening.

The hotel has a beautiful rooftop lounge and terrance and we ended up having a Jamon tasting and just relaxing that evening.  Mike bought the ham at a speciality store around the corner and boy was it tasty….but not inexpensive – we had three levels, the most expensive was 199 euros a kilo or about 105 dollars a pound!  Wowzer!  Needless to say we only had a taste of it.  Most of us thought the much more economical $50 a pound ham was just fine….of course his majesty Burton thought we should only eat the good stuff from now on!

Monday we all went to Park Guell together. This was originally envisioned as a residential development in the hills above Barcelona and Saudi (architect of La Sagrada Familla) was charged with designing the common spaces.  Unfortunately, it never took off – I guess just like our neighborhood in Knightdale, the best laid plans don’t always come to fruition.  So at some point the it was all sold to the City and turned into a park.  Most of the park is open to the public but the “monumental” area requires a timed ticket to try to keep the crowds down….notice my use of “try”!

Through our the park there is a lot of decoration done with tile shards. This is the technique that Calatrava uses on his modern buildings-remember the cultural center in Valencia?

The Hyperstyle Hall was designed to serve as a covered gathering space for neighborhood events -that’s it at the top of the steps and its roof as the public plaza. It is currently having repairs made which allowed us to see how the dimes on the underside are made above. So while most visitors were unhappy about the construction fence I enjoyed it!

There is also an interesting area of the park which creates a walkway that has a wave form on the interior and interesting columns on the outside, including one called the wash woman and another reminiscent for the spiral columns of the canopy over the altar at St Peters in Rome.

Gaudi’s work may have influenced lots more architects than I realized-these columns at another spot in the park reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s columns for the Johnson Wax Building. Knowing Wright’s ego I’m positive he would say he was unaware of them!

You will have to make your own decision:

On Tuesday, we continued our Gaudi experience by heading to La Sagrada Familla.  This is the church that Gaudi started and that still isn’t finished as you can see from the construction shot at the top of this blog post. When Mike and I visited in the 90s, they said they hoped to have it finished by 2020, they are now pushing to have it finished by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death.  I doubt they are going to make it as they haven’t yet started on the biggest towers…but who knows, with modern building techniques, perhaps they will.

Mike and I had planned on going inside and I “knew” I had bought the tickets – hell we didn’t buy the airline tickets until we were sure we could buy tickets for the same time as Chris and crew were going.  So Monday, I go to find the tickets in my email, hmmmm, not there?  Let me check the credit card…hmmm, no charge?  Did I just imagine it?  Anyway, it appears I dropped the ball, so while Chris et al climbed the tower (been there done that, not gonna do it again) and spent time contemplating inside this magnificent building, Mike and I sat outside and people watched!  Luckily we will be back to Barcelona as our first and only mainland port stop on our Transatlantic back to the USA in November and I am definitely going to buy a ticket for inside this time!

We are also making plans to have lunch at the restaurant around the corner from our hotel where we had wonderful tapas (including grilled octopus better than any we had in Greece) on our last night in Barcelona.  Yummy!

on Wednesday, Mike and I metro-ed to the airport (again arriving too early to check our bags, had a quick visit to the lounge again courtesy of our Priority Pass and then boarded TAP Portugal airlines headed to Lisbon.  While the checkin and boarding process had some of the same issues we experienced in Sofia – again due to contracted airport employees I believe (and so tweeted to TAP), we were pleased with the flights.  On our slightly over 2 hour flight we were served a sandwich and drinks! When is the last time in the US that you saw anything other than a packet of peanuts on a short flight (unless you were seated up front)?

We arrived in Lisbon uneventfully and made it to our Airbnb via UBER after seeing the loooooong taxi line.  Since we have been here we have learned that UBER is easy and cheap here…in some cases, no more expensive than taking the bus!

More on Lisbon coming right up!