Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009 – Barcelona, Spain – Cloudy – Cool – 50s

Embarkation Day The plan is to grab a cab to the port around 10:30AM. Eventually, we decided to share a van with another couple, thereby saving half the costs. The ride to the Pier was very short – maybe 10 – 15 minutes. There are only two ships here today – the NCL Gem and the RCI Voyager of the Seas.


The Voyager of the Seas

(A note on the VOTS: On our Baltic Cruise in 2000, we saw the VOTS being built in a shipyard in Finland. The guide told us it would be the biggest cruise ship in the world. In 2009, she is only a mid-sized ship)

Check-in was quick and simple. We got on the ship at about 11:30 AM. First priority was to get a seat assignment in one of the three dining rooms. The Head Waiter confirmed we had no assignment and the best he could do would be a table for four – we would be first on the waiting list for a table for two.

Next stop: Windjammer Cafe for buffet lunch. Salad, soup, and pizza – still a welcome change from the faire we had all week at the hotel. The food was pretty good.

The rooms just opened up – we are in Cabin 9255 (mid ship). A nice room – both of us can be in the bathroom at the same time and it has a real shower.

Now we are up on Deck 14 waiting for the Muster Drill. Unfortunately, the weather does not look like it will be improving; the day started off cool and cloudy and at 3:00 PM there is still no sign of the sun.


View from port side – Deck 14

I received a letter in the stateroom from the Activities Director indicating we would be meeting to go over the lecture schedule for the cruise.

I am scheduled to conduct eight lectures – one on each sea day except for the last one. The talks are at 9:00 AM in the La Scalia Theater followed at 10:00 AM by a NASA engineer speaking on the Space Flight program. I will need to be aware of my speaking time so I don’t run into his time.

I didn’t change prior to going to La Boheme for dinner. We were joined by another couple from Atlanta. The conversation was pleasant but the dinner took a long time (most likely because passengers arrived late for the 5:30 PM first seating). The food was OK after some adjustment.

The “Welcome Aboard” Show was the only show of the night. The cruise director, Mike, was very funny. The dancers were great – there was a pretty amazing trapeze duo, and Steve Smith, a hilarious comedian. One of the better opening shows.

After the show, we searched for other entertainment around the ship. We found Ian Smith, a piano man, in the Schooner Bar, a Brit, with a funny sense of humor and a good voice. It looks like we have found our “Taylor” on this ship.

Seas are smooth – hope to get some sleep.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009 – Barcelona, Spain – Sunny - 60s

We left our shade open so we got a little bit of light entering our room (we are on the inside of the building facing another tall building so the amount of light is pretty small) – just enough to keep up from sleeping until Noon.  Our neighbors helped out by providing a wake up call as well.

Today’s exploration plan involves walking to the Sagrada Familia, a spectacular Temple started by another architect but “finished” by Gaudi.  From the hotel, we head north on Passeig Gracia

Passeig Gracia looking North

On the way, as a warm up , we passed the other Gaudi structures.  First, the Casa Batllo

Casa Amatller and Casa Batllo 

Casa Batllo and Casa Amatller

The street on which these buildings sit is called the “Block of Disagreement” due to the presence of such varied examples of architectural design. 

A few blocks up and on the other side of the street sits La Pedrera.  This time, we take advantage of the free look at the foyer and museum of this building

Inside La Pedrera

In La Pedrera – the staircase leading to the museum

The atrium of the building is also unique

La Pedrera Atrium

From La Pedrera, we took the Ave Diagonal and another interesting structure, the Casa De Les Punxes

Casa de Punxes - House of Spikes 

or the “House of Spikes” – look closely and you will see how the house got its name.

An unusual installation up the street – a “submarine” was worth taking a picture of

Submarine Statue

Maybe it’s a torpedo – there was no plaque explaining the work of art.

A few blocks away and through the trees, Gaudi’s masterwork became visible, the Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia

This building is designed to contain 18 towers (it now has 8).  It is also intended to incorporate a large number of religious symbols (12 apostles, 4 evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ and have three facades.  Some of these elements can be seen on the exterior walls of the temple

Sagrada Familia edifice 2

The cornerstone on the site

Sagrada Familia cornerstone

Sagrada Familia Cornerstone

carries a date of 1882. 

The structure is now scheduled to be completed in the year 2040.  Who knows?

One interesting thing I noticed when looking at the Sagrada Familia.  Near the site are trees with little grape-like fruits on them.  These fruits look just like the grape-like structures Gaudi placed on the towers


Grapes on the tree and the towers

We decided to do one more tour of the Gothic Quarter before leaving the city.  The first time through, we did not see Placa Sant Jaume

Placa de Sant Jaume 1

Generalitat Autonomous Headquarters (16th century)

Placa de Sant Jaume

Barcelona Town Hall (19th century)

This square is the site of political demonstrations and sporting event celebrations.

A nice final place to visit in a wonderful city.

Friday, November 27, 2009 – Barcelona, Spain – Cloudy – Drizzly - 50s

Slept until 10:00 AM (the last time I slept this late was in High School) – since no one slipped us any drugs, I can only attribute this to the lack of any light in our room.  So now, we are more “jet lagged” than yesterday.

Today’s plan is to do the walking tour of the “Gothic Quarter”, a multi-square block area of medieval buildings and narrow streets reachable from Las Ramblas.  We passed by the Placa de Catalunya to check out another of the fantastic fountains.

HMT Plaza Catalunya

This was a peaceful fountain, where water gently flowed over the edge of what resembled a large pool.

A left turn off Las Ramblas takes you from the bustling wide pedestrian showplace to the narrow streets (still full of people) of the Gothic Quarter.  Our first stop is Santa Maria Del Pi, a church built over a period of 100 years (starting in the early 1300s).

Esglesia De Santa Maria Del Pi Santa Maria De Pi

Esglesia De Santa Maria Del Pi

The church is an example of Catalan Gothic.  Surrounding the church are narrow streets with upscale shops and small cafes.

Not far from the Placa Pi is the Roman Wall and Barcelona Cathedral complex.  The Roman Walls are the remains of the Roman City of Barcino.  The Cathedral complex is entered through one of the ancient gates

Roman Wall - Gothic Quarter

Ellen at the Gothic Gate (the Roman Wall is on the left)

The cathedral is visible down the long, narrow street.

 Roman Wall and Cathedral

We decided not to take the tour of the Cathedral but I did manage to snap a picture of the courtyard

Cathedral Courtyard

The next destination was the Call – the old Jewish Quarter – home to Jews from the 11th century until last 1391, when the area was attacked and destroyed.  The streets and architecture are essentially the same as the rest of Gothic Barcelona

Jewish Quarter

Ellen standing in the streets of the Call 

until you come across this plaque on one of the street corners

Entrance to the Call

The Synagogue was discovered accidently when reviewing old tax records (according to the guide) – this building paid no taxes (just like today) and was not a church.  The entrance to the Synagogue is very small (about Ellen Size - 5 ft tall)

Synagogue Entrance 

Inside the structure is an archeological dig representing the four layers of walls

various walls

The boulders are from the 3rd and 4th centuries (basically Roman); the middle stones are from the 13th to 15th centuries and the upper bricks from the 17th and 18th centuries.

There were several other artifacts in the Synagogue including a menorah

artifacts in shul

and some Torahs

Torahs from Morocco

These items are not from the original Synagogue (they are clearly too recent) – the Torahs are actually from the 18th century from Morocco (they were donated to the Synagogue).

The next stop was the Barcelona Cathedral (under repair like most sacred places seem to be)

Barcelona Cathredal

This iteration is from the 13th century, with the facade (under restoration) added in the 19th century.

We caught another view of this magnificent building as we departed the Gothic Quarter


Barcelona Cathedral

Due to the late start on this day, our walking tour is just about over as we head back up Las Ramblas.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009 – Barcelona, Spain – Sunny – Mid 70s

(Updated and corrected)

The jet lag is slowly departing although I did get up in the middle of the night and didn’t know where I was. 

Happy Thanksgiving – the hotel must be aware of this as they are serving Turkey on the buffet today (lots of Yanks are staying here).

We have found that the best way to get back on local time is to literally walk it off.  Today, we are planning to head down Las Ramblas to the Statue of Christopher Columbus and the Marina.  It’s a good opportunity to check out the shops and the architecture.  The route has both classic and modernist style buildings.  This building at the corner of Las Ramblas and Mallorca is a good example of classic architecture.

Mallorca and Las Ramblas Architecture

The Plaza Catalunya is pretty impressive in the daytime even though the fountain is not running

Plaza Catalunya

Ellen – Plaza Catalunya

The Plaza is massive and serves as the entrance to Las Ramblas or the multi-block pedestrian walkway

Las Ramblas

Entrance to Las Ramblas from the South

The center of Las Ramblas is jam packed with pedestrians, flower shops and numerous “human statues”.  These statues range from the very bizarre (“mythical creatures”) to more mundane types (the standard robot).  The best one we saw was a fellow covered head to toe with fruits and vegetables who blended seamlessly into a produce stand (I didn’t get a picture since it’s pay and snap).

Continuing down Las Ramblas, we encountered more amazing buildings – one with frescoes (or reliefs for those in the know)

Building with frescoes

and another with a decidedly Asian motif, complete with dragon and parasols

Building wth Asian motif

Las Ramblas ends at the Mirador de Colon.  The Statue of Christopher Columbus is very impressive – over 150 feet tall with a small elevator that takes you to the top for a neat view.

Columbus statue at the Marina

Chris, for sure, is at the top, but all around the statue are figures that no doubt have some connection to CCs voyages.  I believe Columbus met with Ferdinand and Isabella in Barcelona upon his return from the New World. 

If you look west from the Marina, you can see a Montjuic,

looking west from the Marina

a hill on which the Estadi Olimpic is located.  This stadium was to be used for the 1936 Olympics (which went to Berlin – go Jesse) but was repurposed for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

The MareMagnum Shopping Mall is located at the end of a small footbridge.  It has all the stores you would expect from an upscale mall.  We did manage to take an interesting shot of ourselves reflecting in the mirrored facade

Reflections II

Can you spot us?  The tables just below us are from a restaurant.  Neat, huh?

Adjacent to the Mall is the Marina Port Vell.  The marina is literally packed with boats.

Marina Port Vell

You can get a good view of the Columbus Statue and the Barcelona Maritime Museum from the Marina.

Maritime Museum

From the Maremagnum, you can see the World Trade Center (one of about 40 around the world)

World Trade Center and statue

I don’t know what that statue is doing in the middle of the inlet but there are two of them. 

Following lunch, exploration continued.

Gracia Street is the street parallel to Catalunya; this street is part of the Gaudi tour and contains a number of his works.  One great, oft cited, example is the Casa Battlo

Casa Battlo 

Casa Battlo

whose roof lines represent St. George’s battle with the Dragon (you can see the serrated dragon’s tail) and whose balconies resemble masks (see the eye holes) and jaws (teeth are visible).

Another fine example of architecture is right next to the Gaudi.  This is the Amatller House built in 1900.  The structure gets a lot of attention being adjacent to the Casa Batllo.

Gaudi Casa Batllo

Casa Amatller

Another famous work by Gaudi, La Pedrera, is a few blocks away on Passeig de Gracia. 


After dinner, we went back to Passeig de Gracia to see the architecture at night.  The buildings are lit and spectacular at night. 

Casa Battlo at night

Casa Battlo under the lights

La Perdrera at night

La Pedrera at night

Both Gaudi sites had some kind of special event going on – camera crews, crowds, and special waiters at the ready.   Maybe Barack was taking Michelle for a tour of the sites followed by dinner – isn’t it date night tonight?

An hour later we are back in our room – enough walking for one day.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Transatlantic Cruise – Voyager of the Seas – November 29 – December 13, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 -  Travel Day

It’s drizzling and dreary outside.  The weather is starting to feel like Winter (snow is forecast for Thanksgiving).  While we are regrettably missing Thanksgiving with the family this year, we are booked on the Voyager of the Seas from Barcelona, Spain to Galveston, Texas (really). 

Our flight to London departs at 10:00 PM so we have additional time to spend with the kids. Our plane, a 777 brought in for this flight (no passengers deplaned at O’Hare,

dark and rainy our plane (Small) 

Our plane – wet with warning lights

developed an electrical problem.  The pilot said the maintenance crew “reset” the electrical system and all of the fault lights went out.  Good to go (he thought nervously) and only about 30 minutes late.

Someone explain this to me – at about midnight, dinner was served, which, as I see it, a sure fire way to ensue that you do not sleep during the flight.  Not helping was the multi-decibel role of those 777 engines, but no real sleep was had.  As usual, dawn over the Atlantic Ocean was a sight to behold

Sunrise atlantic ocean (Small)

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean

The flight was relatively smooth. I was actually pleased to see the “fasten seat belt” light come on during the flight because that meant that someone was awake in the cockpit or logged off of Face Book long enough to hit the light.  It’s the little things that count when you’re flying. 

We were a bit tired but happy to be an hour from London

almost in London - no sleep (Small)

Sitting in the exit/bulkhead row really help with the deep vein thrombosis issue.

Our connection with British Air went well even though it was tighter than usual  Soon we boarded a bus to take us to our plane – first for me

our bus to our BA flight 

If that wasn’t enough, we actually walked up a set of portable stairs to our plane

no jetway (Small)

I felt like giving the “Presidential Wave” at the top of the stairs but it was chilly and I wanted to get to my seat.

I love flying British Air.  The flight attendants are always courteous and the pilots give the shortest (and mostly unintelligible) announcements.  The flight was bumpy but the sunset over Barcelona bookended the day

sunset in Barcelona (Small)

We haven’t been back to Barcelona since 1997.  The airport looked band new with these great un-escalators (they were a moving ramp). 

Then everything came together:  Our luggage came right out (both bags); passport control took 30 seconds; For 5 Euros we took the Aerobus straight to the Plaza Catalunya (where our hotel is).  The city is just fantastic; one example, the fountain at the Plaza Catalunya

Foutain - Plaza  Catalunya (Small)

Fountain – Plaza Catalunya

We are staying at a very nice baroque style hotel:  Hotel Continental Palacete.  They have a 24 hour buffet (including beer, wine, and lattes) so we tried some tapas and sweets.  I  don’t think we will need to eat anywhere else while we are here.