Saturday, May 7, 2016

Cruising the Mediterranean!

This is the "super excited we are on a plane from Houston to London, then to Barcelona Spain where we get on a cruise boat to Italy" picture! My face wasn't quite so happy after 21 hours of travel:) Danielle and Jonathan are the spoiled youngest children...the older siblings and spouses got to go to reliable old England to meet Michael's family:) Our British family came to us a few months ago so dad said they could pick another place....lucky kids!

Day 1 
Barcelona, Spain
Booking a foreign hotel is a bit frightening, but Michael found us a tiny apartment right in the heart of Barcelona with great reviews and an American price point...good job honey! We even had a small terrace to enjoy the city hustle and bustle at tree level:) Having a Spanish speaking son-in-law was a bonus for touring around the city!

As I write this first day's post I am sitting in the rapidly cooling temps, enjoying a cool breeze, the fading traffic noise...not so much the screaming toddler just up the block! I love visiting cities but this small town girl just wouldn't want to live in the frantic fray!

Jonathan studied a bit of Spanish architect Antoni Guadi in school and led the way on a trek around the city to see two of his fantastic structures. The first was Casa Batllo, with it's colorful tile, mask like terraces and rolling structure face, this was the most unique building my eyes had ever seen...until the next Gaudi building!

The building right next door was beautiful in more of a traditional Spanish style...I am in architecture heaven here! The heavy gothic trim is an amazing feat of craftsmanship.

Michael is a Nutella addict. Most mornings find him spreading a generous layer on his English muffin then topped with raspberry jam! This gigantic jar caught his attention and it was only after I was uploading the pictures that the detox sign was ironic!

Strolling along the streets in Barcelona was pleasant in the perfect sunny afternoon. A local florist, a Kimbo sign (nick name from my boys:-\...and beautiful turquoise shutters with decorative iron terraces caught my eye.

After the promise of "one more block" several times from Jonathan, we finally arrived at our second Gaudi monstrosity. I am not usually a whiner about long walks but remember we have been traveling for 21 hours straight with no sleep! I am happy to report that I did not strangle the son-in-law and that the walk was worth the unbelievable building before our eyes! This is the Sagrada Familia Basilica which has been under construction for 100 years since the first stone was laid. Michael commented that Antoni let his imagination run wild! 

The other side of this monstrosity looks like something out of Tolken book! Look these buildings up pictures do not do this justice. You really have to see it to believe it!

I am glad we experienced the Gaudi buildings...however I do prefer a more "normal" gothic  style structure like this beautiful church. The intricate detail is wondrous to behold! 

Ironically, we ate Italian food in Spain...Danielle did love the cutting tool:)

Day 2
Barcelona, Spain
Vision of the Seas, Royal Caribbean cruise boat
We packed our bags, bought some pastries for breakfast and began a trek through Barcelona to our cruise boat. Crossley's tend to do things the hard way as my mother-in-law says... The British are a thrifty lot and walking instead of hiring a taxi is a matter of national pride;-}

We did take a detour to see this gorgeous gothic cathedral. There was a festive air around the square with a man blowing bubbles to delight the children and another playing a beautiful rendition of Ava Maria....each hoping for coins in their tin close by.

Danielle & Jonathan took a tour of the cathedral enjoying the gold leaf ceilings and roof top view of the city.

As we came to the seaside it became apparent that a bridge would be part of our trek to the boat...I soldiered on with my suitcase secretly "throwing daggers" at the back of Michael's head:) In his defense he did offer to take it off my hands, but Texas girls don't admit defeat so easily!

We had a funny shock when we finally got our room (which I thought was 2 rooms) to find that their definition of a large stateroom for 4 really meant a tiny room with ceiling mounted bunk beds for parents and small children;-}

Never arrangements are trivial...we are cruising the Mediterranean!

Day 3 
Cannes, France

The Mediterranean sea! Even though this is the place of the famous Cannes Film festival, there wasn't much to do! We just walked to a scenic lookout and around the town. Our highlight of the day was a Nutella crepe, and fresh authentic french bread! I was proud of the hubby for keeping his French insults to a bare minimum:) The English and French have a long history of mutual dislike!

The blues of the Mediterranean sea and sky are such pleasing and varied shades of blue. This is especially true considering we live on the muddy brown Mississippi mud Gulf of Mexico! "Tendering" back to the cruise boat from Cannes, I am happy to say I have now been to France:)

Day 4
Rome, Italy

Rome is impressive in our modern world of skyscrapers, massive malls, and theme parks, but I can only imagine how very overwhelming and humbling it must have been to walk here in it's original glory and power. We negotiated a "skip the lines" tour to see the Vatican museum, and the famous Sistine Chapel ceiling. (which we were not allowed to photograph)

This sphere in the vatican courtyard was the inspiration for the "Deathstar" in Star wars:)

In the Vatican museum the ceilings are painted, embellished with gold leafed, and covered in plaster figures. The artistry is ancient and often tells the stories of God's dealings with man.

Intricate tapestries adorned the walls telling stories of Christ. Imagine the skill required to create such an art piece out of thread on a primitive loom!

This museum corridor ceiling went on continuously for the length of  about 3 football fields. The exceedingly elaborate ceiling with copious amounts of gold leafing was a sight to behold!

I absolutely love columns, and these giants flanking the doors of St. Peter's Basilica did not disappoint!

Danielle was especially excited to see St. Peter's Basilica which was unbelievably beautiful in ornate detail. It would have been an extreme honor, a life's work and legacy to work on such a structure.

How majestic these columns stand, a testimony of the power of Rome.

Ancient ruins of the Roman Forum would have been a showcase of temples, basilica's and grand public spaces. Built in the 7th century, this sight would have been much plundered for stone and marble.

Behold the Colosseum! This is as close as we could get with our time limitations. Truly a marvel of ancient architecture I shudder to imagine the terrible events that took place in this structure. There are many things about ancient Rome that we will do well to leave in the past! 

Day 5
Pompeii, Italy

Instead of official tours, we tend to walk, take public transportation, and walk some's the British way. I so wish my pedometer was with me on this trip! The nice thing about foreign public transportation is the added "authentic" experience.

Pompeii is 44 acres of excavated city, 22 of which are available to tourists. Seeing this ancient city was in amazing shape considering it's volcanic destruction by Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD 

These stone streets were flooded each day from the aqueduct to keep the city clean.

Beautiful fresco painting inside this home give us a small glimpse of the glory of Pompeii!

I couldn't resist these bright and cheerful poppies growing inside what would have been the floor of a home:)

I was in love with these huge bronze statues until we realized they were a modern decorative addition! 

These are the Roman baths which had heated floors, and 3 different rooms with 3 different temperatures!

We were surprised to learn that because the city apartments were quite small there were actually "fast food" restaurants here in Pompeii! They would actually drive up in their chariots and have curb side service.

The most sobering part of our visit was seeing the bodies of the citizens of Pompeii as they fell when the volcano erupted and buried the city under 13-20 feet of ash. 

After running for the train, finding out we were at the wrong station and running to the right station, we caught the train back to the boat with only 4-5 minutes to spare which made coming back to the port and seeing our ship all the more comforting:)

Day 6 
Catania, Italy
A highlight of our trip was seeing British niece Becky who married Rocco the Italian then had an adorable baby Elena! They traveled by car, ferry, and train just to meet us for a few hours! 

Wanting to visit rather than do the "tourist thing" we decided to take a bus ride up the coast. We went to a cafe and enjoyed some delicious Italian treats including this cannoli!

We all were entranced with this beautiful little piece of heaven! I especially loved this picture of Elena gazing up at Jonathan:)

Becky always keeps us laughing! The day was cheerfully sunny, the sea cold, and the family bonding delightful!

There is something so enchanting about coastlines, something so calming about water, and something soothing about a big blue sky reflected in the sea! 

Day 7 
Venice, Italy
As I am finally finishing this post on June 6th, I am longing to go back to Venice. The beauty, grandeur, and dreamy setting of this most unique city has captured my heart!

Before we could enjoy the gorgeous sight above....there was more trekking through the city wit our suitcases:) Do you see a theme here....

This is a vaporetto, the city "bus" in Venice! People crowded on them with no thought of falling overboard. I was left wondering how weary the locals must be of tourist.

The Grand Canal is bordered by floating palaces from the glory days when Venice was one of the richest cities in Europe. The bottom floor would have been a warehouse of goods which could be loaded directly on to a boat. The second floor would have been business offices. The third floor usually boasts the most ornate windows would be the family living quarters with a sometimes small fourth floor as the servants residence.

The city has very little greenery aside form the two city parks. A few buildings were lucky enough to have room for a courtyard garden.

As the city is sinking, buildings are being flooded 100 times a year! Some of the bottom floors of palaces have grass growing in the bottom floor. 

This is the main tourist area which we mostly avoided:) I have decided that my favorite way to see a city is in the back streets among the locals.

Many narrow corridors run between streets, a good incentive to keep the weight off:)

Danielle just had to "feel" the water. It was chilly and surprisingly clean!

And this is the view I came to see! My heart flutters at the imagined romance of a gondola ride. Sadly we did not have the time...a reason to return someday:)  

Venice celebrates Carnival in a big way so mask and costume shops were around every corner. Danielle plays the violin so this was intriguing in a slightly creepy way!

I tried to imagine daily life in such a city. We learned that the population is shrinking especially for young families who find land living much more convenient....I could imaging Brittany of Janene trying to grocery shop with their three little children...nightmare! It was fun to see this local man jump on his boat with his dog who obviously loves the adventure....hunting dogs just think riding in the back of a truck is fun:) 

We ate lots of pizza but our favorite was the nutella pizza. Really good bread and pasta is do these people stay thin?

At dinner time when the crowds thinned out we got lucky and found ourselves on the very front of a vaporetto (water bus) where we stayed for over two hours! I was in heaven! We rode down and back the Grand Canal even stopping at a couple of small islands. I could have stayed on there all day drinking in the city palaces, cathedrals, and gondolas. 

Venice is slowly crumbling but the romantic majesty and artistic craftsmanship is still worthy of admiration. There are almost 100 palaces here with varied styles...Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Oh to imagine how it would have shimmered at it's peak. 

We only had one night and one "real" Italian dinner. As it turns out, our waiter was German, another from Mumbai, the owner was Chinese but thank heavens the cook was Italian! One of the interesting culteral norms was gangs of young men wandering through the city streets singing loudly which went on until very late! I wondered if it would be as charming if I lived here:) 

The next morning Michael & I left n the dark, trekking with our suitcases rolling loudly over the cobblestone streets to the bus stop. A plane ride to England for a family reunion was next on the agenda! I was sad to say goodbye to Venice so soon. One day and night was like going out to dinner for a tiny appetizer and then leaving without dinner or dessert! 

A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him. 
                                                           Arthur Symons

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