April 22 – Strait of Gibraltar

22 Apr

The Strait of Gibraltar . . . Gibraltar . . . a British overseas territory; home of the “rock” made famous by that insurance company who used the image of the Rock of Gibraltar in its logo; the spot where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet; the Strait is the body of water that separates Africa from Europe.

This is a heavily traveled route – you’ve got to go through the Strait to get from the Atlantic Ocean to the Med or from the Med to the Atlantic Ocean.  Although many ships stop in Gibraltar, we were just passing by.  The ship had asked for and received permission to come “close” to the Rock.  So, just as the sun was starting to set, we came within 2 miles of shore.  Photography wasn’t great as we were on the east side of the Rock with the setting sun in our faces.  The Commodore did slow the ship for the passage so that we could get a good look.  He also gave his usual informative and chatty commentary! 

Most of the citizens live on the west side of the Rock.  Natural resources are scarce.  Fresh water is obtained through a desalination plant.  Gibraltar’s northern border is with Spain.  The Rock is the real attraction in the Strait.  But since the Strait is only 7 miles wide, Morocco can easily be seen!

There you have it . . . it took all of about 30 minutes to see the Rock and to pass through the very famous Strait of Gibraltar. 

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April 21 – Ola Barcelona!

21 Apr

Barcelona . . . largest city on the Mediterranean Sea; one of the most densely populated cities in Europe; home to 1.6 million people; the second largest port in the Mediterranean Sea; home of the 1992 Olympics; art is omnipresent as this city was the home of numerous artists including Goya, Dali, Miro and Picasso; home of the statue of Columbus who is pointing the “wrong” way – he’s not pointing toward America . . .

JJ and I signed up for a tour today was called Highlights of Barcelona.  This was our first time to visit Barcelona and we were excited to see what this notorious city was all about.

The port of Barcelona is very well organized with berthing capacity of up to 11 ships.  On our day in Barcelona, we were one of 4 ships.  The port also has a super location – once you leave the immediate area of the port, you are almost in the city center!  One of the Europe’s most famous pedestrian shopping promenades – La Rambla – is quite close by.

Barcelona is a beautiful city with lots of tree lined streets, some pedestrian only streets, handsome historical buildings and monuments; and a lovely planned neighborhood of beautifully laid out streets and buildings.  We were told that Barcelona has “reinvented” itself three times in recent history – the large International Exhibition in 1888; another large International Exhibition in 1929 and the 1992 Olympics.  There are buildings, monuments and places of interest that represent each of these three reinventions.

JJ had told me about Sagrada Familia – a very famous and still unfinished church.  I was anxious to see it and that was our first stop!  This is one of the most recognizable buildings in Barcelona . . .

  • This is a Roman Catholic church and was recently named a minor Basilica.
  • Construction started in 1882.
  • Antoni Gaudi became associated with the project in 1883 and dedicated his life to the project until his death in 1926.
  • The original plans of the building were lost, so subsequent plans have been based on reconstructed versions of the last known set of plans as well as modern adaptations.
  • At the time of Gaudi’s death, the church was only 15% to 25% complete.
  • Construction crews are on site now working to complete the building by the year 2026.
  • Our guide pointed out that the cranes surrounding the church are “just part of the picture”.
  • The church has two very distinctive looks  —  one façade is very modern, the other façade is very traditional!

This is a very popular site to visit and the queue for entrance into the church wrapped around the corner!

As we drove through the city we saw a couple of other buildings designed by Gaudi.  We understand that the interiors of the building were as eclectic as the exteriors.  One story about a resident of the building goes this way . . . a lady owned a piano (must have been an upright) and was having a terrible time placing the piano against a wall in her apartment, as no wall in her home was straight.  Exhausted from her efforts to place the piano, the lady called Gaudi himself for guidance.  “Where can I place my piano?” the lady asked.  Gaudi thought for a few moments and said “do you play the piano?”  “Yes”, the lady said.  Gaudi thought for a few more moments and then said to the lady “you should play the violin!”.  What a great story!!

Our next stop was the Gothic Quarter.  Just as we were to begin the walk through the older section, we saw a drawing on the façade of a building that looked much like a child’s crayon drawing . . . you didn’t think much of this drawing until you learned that it was a sculpture by Pablo Picasso!!  This sculpture represents activities on Palm Sunday.

The old Gothic Quarter took us down tiny streets, ending at what was once a royal palace.  This section of the city is very quiet and peaceful and you truly felt that you had gone back in time – well maybe not all the way back to Gothic times, but pretty far back in time!

We made our way to the top of Montjuic that is home to a number of places of interest including the Olympic Park.  This is the home to many of the venues of the 1992 Olympics.  You may remember the dramatic lighting of the torch by an archer.  Well, the cauldron is still there – attached to the building where the Opening Ceremonies were held.  Because Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympics, we just love visiting Olympic cities and seeing the venues. 

One of the points of interest on the top of Montjuic is El Poble.  This “town” was built specifically for the 1929 International Exhibition.  You will see artisans representing all of the regions of Spain.  These artisans are grouped together by the region from which they hail.  You can see the artisans working in their workshops – making glass, guitars, decorative hand fans, weaving fabrics,  or perhaps weaving baskets.  A small café may sneak in a spot between the shops.  Pause during your stroll for a coffee or an ice cream.  The pedestrian streets were crowded but not oppressively so.  Visit the art museum where you might see a Picasso, Dali, or a Miro.  So much to see and do!  It is a super place! 

We found a glass workshop that has one of the only two traditional glassblowing furnaces left in Spain.  The furnace’s temperature is between 1,200 and 1,500 degrees centigrade and is never turned off.  We spent some time just watching the activities.  At the time of our visit, it must have been “pitcher day” – as in water, wine or milk, not American baseball – as pitchers were all we saw being made.  Three men were twirling and blowing the glowing balls of molten glass and then cooling the finished product . . . and then just at the right moment, the handles were attached . . . just fascinating. 

A multitude of motor scooters and bicycles easily share the roads with cars and buses.  We were especially intrigued with a bicycle rental system in the city center.  The bicycles can be rented for an annual fee of about 30 Euros.  You can pick-up the bicycle at one of the racks in the city and return the bicycle at a rack in another part of the city.  There are some disadvantages to this system . . . the rack can only accommodate a certain number of bicycles, so if the rack nearest your destination is full, you might have to ride around for a while to find a rack where you can leave the bicycle.  Or conversely, if you’re ready to ride and there are no bicycles in the rack nearest you, it might take a while to walk around to find a rack with bicycles available.  Not a perfect system, but one that seem to be quite popular and successful in Barcelona.

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All good things must come to an end and so did this tour . . . we had a great time in Barcelona and will definitely put this city on the list to re-visit!!  There’s still a lot to see and do in Beautiful Barcelona . . .


P. S.  I had a really hard time deciding which of my three Spanish outfits to wear in Spain . . . so I wore them all!!

April 20 – Nice is Nice, really!

20 Apr

Actually it’s nice – very nice –  all along the Cote d’Azur  —  from Monte Carlo to Cannes.

Monte Carlo was an anchorage port.  We weren’t anchored very far from shore, so the view was excellent and the tender ride was short.  It’s always fun to be in a place that has lots of wealth!!

Although our port of call was Monte Carlo, the tour that JJ and I selected was taking us to Cannes and to St. Paul de Vence.  Both of these cities are located in France. 

You learned about Monaco the other day, didn’t you?  Do you remember that it is the second smallest country in the world – after the Holy See – the Vatican?  Monaco is located on the Mediterranean Sea – surrounded by France on three sides.  This stretch of the Mediterranean Sea is known as the Cote d’Azur – the blue coast  —  known for blue seas and blue skies.  There are about 3,000 full-time residents in Monaco.  And in order to have a tax-free status, you must reside full time for 6-months of the year in Monaco.  The Cote d’Azur is known to have about 300 days of sun each year!

Monaco is famous for the glamour, wealth and famous people.  But Monaco is also known as the home of the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix, world championship boxing, the Monte-Carlo Masters, European Poker Tour Grand Final and World Backgammon.  We understand that if you have an apartment with a large balcony that overlooks the Grand Prix circuit, during the race week, you can rent your balcony for about 15,000 Euros for the week.  That price would include champagne, but food would be extra.  And that price does not include the apartment – just the balcony!!  Can you figure how many US dollars 15,000 Euros is? 

We’ll all be seeing Monaco in the news coming up in July as Prince Albert is getting married.  Of course, that will be just after the really big wedding in London in April!!  A big year for Royal Weddings!!!!  And did you know that in Monaco, only the male heir can inherit the throne?

The tender took us to shore into the yacht basin.  In Monte Carlo, the word yacht takes on a new meaning . . . we saw two larger yachts in the basin that caught our eye  —  Lady Moura (just 344 feet long) and Radiant (360 feet long).  Both of these yachts are on the list of some of the largest yachts in the world. 

Monte Carlo is strictly urban  —  it has no natural resources.  Because of the minimal amount of space for development, tall buildings are everywhere.  And under many of the tall buildings are traffic tunnels  —  tunnels that are so large that they have traffic circles in them!  Because it is so expensive to live in Monaco, about 40,000 people commute into the country each day.

We headed west out of Monaco toward our first stop of Cannes  —  another home of the rich and famous!! The toll road on which we motored is considered the most expensive in all of France.   Traffic moved along quickly and we were entertained along the way with seeing the beautiful countryside  —  the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the pre-Alps on the other.  Skiing in the pre-Alps is just about one hour away from the coast.  The residents like to say that they can go skiing in the morning and go swimming in the Mediterranean in the afternoon!

We arrived in Cannes for our stay of about 1-1/2 hours.  And just as we were getting off the bus, a very light rain began to fall . . . of all days to think that we would have sunshine and left the umbrellas at home . . . can’t do anything about it now . . . so put a smile on your face and enjoy. Cannes is probably the most famous of all of the cities along the coast and is home of the Cannes Film Festival.

The city was preparing for the film festival, erecting temporary buildings where receptions are held and sprucing up the beaches.  The film festival will be held in May of this year.

The narrow streets of the city are very charming.  We happened upon a Catholic Church – Notre Dame de Bon Voyage!!!  Don’t you just love the name?  Then we made our way back to the main street along the sea where every famous name designer has a boutique. Window shopping is especially fun because all of the merchandise in the window is priced  —  the saying “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it” doesn’t apply here – you don’t have to ask the price, you can read the sign and know that you can’t afford it!!  It was fun to just imagine having that much money . . .  We saw a man who had just started working on a sand sculpture.  We also saw a very cool merry go round!   The time went quickly and we were ready to go on to the next stop on our tour.

St. Paul de Vence is one of over 150 hillside villages in Southern France.  And according to our guide, it is the most popular to visit.  We had been in St. Paul de Vence over 25 years ago.  We were most anxious to see it again.  Up into the hills we went, passing through charming town after charming town.  You hardly knew which direction to look – it seemed like there was a surprise around every corner.  One village that especially caught our eye was called La Colle sur Loup  —  absolutely charming.  Only residents of the city can bring their cars into the walled city and the cars can only be driven on certain “streets”.  So, the entire town has pedestrian only streets.

St. Paul de Vence is known for contemporary artists.  Picasso and Miro both spent time in this town.  In fact, many years before these artists became famous, they were “starving” and living in St. Paul de Vence.  A world famous hotel/restaurant in the town – la Colombe d’Or – accepted paintings and drawings from these artists as payment for room and board.  So, when you visit the restaurant, you’ll be surrounded by paintings and drawings that could easily be found in any museum in the world.

We arrived at St. Paul de Vence  —  the sun came out  —  the blue skies appeared  —  just glorious weather for this part of our tour!  We had to walk a short distance to the famous walled city, but worth every step.  Our friends Mrs. Zabinski and Dr. Wood wanted to take us to lunch . . . so we set about to find a restaurant.  We could hardly take two steps without stopping to take a photograph or to say “wow”, “unbelievable”, “how charming”, “isn’t this wonderful”.  We had to keep walking or we would have stayed in the first 50 feet inside the village for the entire day!!  The shops have lots of quality merchandise and restaurants are small and plentiful. 

With little effort, we found a restaurant that had large windows that overlooked the valley.  The menu was presented (and explained) to us and we all decided to have a Chicken Salad  —  no, our French isn’t as good as thought.  Fresh bread with local olive oil and balsamic vinegar were offered – and quickly consumed!!  And shortly after, beautiful plates of a salad of mixed lettuces, cole slaw and grilled chicken breasts were delivered!!  Amazing that the four of us could be quite for so long . . . savoring every bite . . . with only the sounds of “this is absolutely delicious” heard from each of us. 

One could spend several days to a week in this charming town.  It has great shopping – quality merchandise, wonderful restaurants, tons of photographic opportunities and a very calm and peaceful ambiance.  There were just not enough hours in our day to take it all in . . . this is absolutely one spot to put on the list for a return visit!

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The return drive to the ship took us along the Lower Cornish – the road along the sea.  We drove through Nice  —  which is really nice  —  and all of the smaller, lesser-known towns.  We saw the famous Villefranche with its lovely natural harbor.  We saw large homes owned by the rich and famous – Tina Turner, Bono, Elton John.  Each town seemed to be more charming than the one we just left . . . great colors, great architecture, small shops, sidewalk cafes, the laidback lifestyle . . . all places to which you would love to return to and spend some quality time.

What a wonderful day!  We were reminded of the saying . . . “Americans live to work and the French work to live!”  For our day in France, we took the advice of the French and we lived – large!!  Viva la France!!

April 19 – Southampton, England

19 Apr

Southampton, England, United Kingdom

Location: Western Europe, islands including the northern one-sixth of the island of Ireland between the North Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, northwest of France


United Kingdom

Population: 61,284,806 (July 2010 est.)

Capital: London

Language: English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish form of Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland)

Currency: British pounds (GBP)

Industries: machine tools, electric power equipment, automation equipment, railroad equipment, shipbuilding, aircraft, motor vehicles and parts, electronics and communications equipment, metals, chemicals, coal, petroleum, paper and paper products, food processing, textiles, clothing, other consumer goods

Area Comparative: slightly smaller than Oregon

Geographic Notes: lies near vital North Atlantic sea lanes; only 35 km from France and linked by tunnel under the English Channel; because of heavily indented coastline, no location is more than 125 km from tidal waters

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Click Here for Time and Weather in Southampton

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World Cup Soccer – English Style!!

April 18 – Pizza in the Piazza

18 Apr

The ship entered the harbor of Civitavecchia – the port city for Rome, right on schedule.  And all of a sudden the wind picked up . . . we mean the wind picked up to something like 55 to 60 knots . . . the seas looked “angry” with lots of white horses (also known as white caps) all around us . . .

The Commodore made an announcement that due to the high winds (the winds came in earlier than had been expected) the ship would be turning around as it was dangerous to try and dock in these conditions.  The Commodore mentioned that our sister ship, the Elizabeth, had come into port earlier in the day and had not experienced the wind conditions that we had.

JJ and I had decided to take the Rome on Your Own tour.  We would ride the bus into the city of Rome – tour around – then take the bus back to the ship.

The 1-1/2 hour drive in to Rome is lovely through beautiful countryside.  The hillsides were a beautiful green color showing off all of the new Spring growth.  As we neared downtown, the traffic grew more congested and more congested.  But, finally we reached the “drop-off” point – right at colonnade of St. Peter’s Basilica.   And more importantly, we learned the “pick-up” point would also be the same.  We now knew the time and the place for the pick-up, so off we went!!

Our plan was to spend some quality time in St. Peter’s and visit the Piazza Navona where we would have lunch, then leisurely walk along the Tiber River back to the meeting point.  Immediately upon disembarking the bus, we noticed that the sidewalks around St. Peter’s were jam packed . . . apparently all of those people who would have normally have gone to Egypt on their Spring Break were now visiting Rome!  Groups of kids were everywhere!!

The first bit of news that we heard was that the Pope was receiving some people at St. Peter’s, so the church was closed to the public until about 1:00 pm.  The Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter’s Square) was also being prepared for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday – setting up audio and video feed for this very special time of the year.

So, off to the Piazza Navona we go . . . take a right here, a left here . . . now another right – no not there, up another street . . . now a left.  Well, it should be right here!  Voila – a lovely yellow sign with an arrow “Piazza Navona this way”!  The small narrow streets that surround this fabulous piazza are charming and are a photographer’s paradise.  We wandered, ambled, stumbled and mostly enjoyed the street scenes.  And we just absorbed the Italian flavors of the day – the quaint shops where artists sell their wares, the flower shops, and the small sidewalk café of the day!!  The smells from the tiny kitchens were beginning to fill the streets . . .  The fabulous fountain  —  artists selling their street scenes paintings; the caricature artists who will draw your picture in minutes; and the people – lots and lots and lots of people.  All of the activity in the middle is ringed by restaurant after restaurant after restaurant.  Fortunately, it only pedestrian traffic so you don’t have to be worried that you will be hit by a car as you’re trying to look everywhere at once.

JJ and I found a tiny little restaurant, Satyricon, and we sat outside at a table on one side of a small street.  They advertised pizzas – we wanted a pizza – seemed like a match made in Heaven for us!!  We ordered pizzas and Cola-Colas . . .we were living large!!   It has been a long time since we’ve had a pizza . . . we savored each bite!!

Now it was time to make our back to St. Peter’s.  We decided to take the route so that we could walk near the Tiber River.  We enjoyed the cool Springtime temperatures, the cloudless blue skies and the lovely sights of Rome, as we passed the St. Angelo Castle and National Museum.  Street vendors are always entertaining and one just never knows what treasures they might be selling, so you at least have to look!!

St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s Square . . . how does one describe this magnificent place?  Well, one term might have been zoo when we arrived back.  Good thing that the Square holds a TON of people, because the place was coming close to capacity!  Now, which line do we get in to go inside the Basilica . . . not the Vatican Museum or the Sistine Chapel, just the Basilica. 

St. Peter’s scale and beauty is amazing.  Even with thousands of people inside, it never seemed oppressive.  People – literally from all over the world – were milling about the Basilica, taking in the beauty of this sacred place.  The carvings are magnificent – we saw marble carvings where the fabric on one female figure looked so sheer you just knew that if the wind blew, the fabric would rustle.  The details of the architecture are amazing.

Last but certainly not least, we viewed Michelangelo’s Pieta.  This magnificent statue is located in the first chapel just after you enter the Basilica, but we preferred to view it last.  It is the only piece ever signed by Michelangelo.  Unfortunately, this statue is behind bulletproof glass since a maniac attached it in 1972.  So, the viewing is good, but not nearly as good as it used to be!!  What a breathtaking piece of art!

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We were now ready to go back to the meeting place and make our way back to Civitavecchia.  We had seen what we wanted to see, done what we wanted to do and had enjoyed a delicious pizza.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day . . .

On the bus ride back to the ship, we hummed “Three Coins in a Fountain” and then said Arrivederci Roma . . . 

April 17 – Stromboli

17 Apr

Stromboli . . . no, it is not some pasta dish what we’re having for dinner!!!!

Stromboli is a small island off the coast of Italy and contains an active volcano.  The last time that this volcano had a significant eruption was in 2009.  Did you know that there are 3 active volcanoes in Italy?  They are Mt. Etna, Mt. Vulcano and Stromboli.

There are two cities located on Stromboli – San Bartalo and San Vincenzo.

The island is 3,034 feet above sea level and rises 6,500 feet above the sea floor.

This island is placed perfectly to see just after you leave the Strait of Messina on the way to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome – you literally go right by it!  JJ and I couldn’t believe how close the ship was to this small island.  The sun was perfectly placed for photographs.  We didn’t make a complete circumnavigation, but we did see both cities and the side of the island where all of the lava flows.  The contrast between the green of the island and the black lava was striking.

Pretty cool, don't you think?

Just as we pulled away from the island, a big puff of smoke came out of the top . . . and you could see the steam all the way down the side of the mountain into the sea!!  Quite a sight!

Thank you Commodore Warner, that was super!!

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April 16 – Strait of Messina

16 Apr

Here’s something interesting that was not on our itinerary . . .

Of course you know that we’re in the Mediterranean Sea.  Did you know that on our way to Rome, Italy, we had to pass through the Strait of Messina?  If you’ll look at the map of Italy, you’ll see that the Strait of Messina is the body of water that separates Italy from Sicily.  You can identify Italy easily because it looks pretty much like a boot, doesn’t it?  And Sicily is the island – the football –  that the boot of Italy looks like it is kicking.  So, the Strait of Messina is the body of water between the toe of the boot and the football!!

There are lots of ferries that transport people, cars and trucks from Messina (in Sicily) to Reggio de Calabria (in Italy).  Because of all of this traffic, the ship must take on a pilot.  The complete transit of this small body of water takes just about an hour!!  If you look at the picture of the Strait of Messina that was taken from space, you can see how we had to make several turns to get through the Strait!

The Italian government recently announced that a bridge would be built linking Italy and Sicily.  The bridge would be about 2 miles long and the two pylons in the water will be taller than the Empire State Building!!  It may take a while for this construction to be completed with the Italians taking their three-hour lunches and all!!  But in the meantime, the ferry business is booming!

And while we were doing all of this sightseeing, the ship, the Queen Elizabeth, was just behind us!  You just never know whom you’ll run into while you’re traveling.  We’ll be meeting the Queen Elizabeth in a couple of more ports before we get back to New York City!

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