Day 11 – Exploring Barcelona, Spain on Noordam
Gail Jessen, Live Voyage Reports
Barcelona was the final port in the Noordam’s Mediterranean Explorer itinerary. The Noordam docked at 8:00am and remained docked overnight. There was no set all-aboard time, though passengers were assigned disembarkation times for the next morning. A roundtrip tickets on the port shuttle was 3 Euro and allowed you to return to the ship at any time, day or night. For my first time in Barcelona, my number one priority was to experience the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, and more widely the Spanish version of Art Nouveau: Modernisme. As I’ve discussed in earlier posts, the best way to cover a lot of ground quickly is with the guided hop on hop off buses. If you score a seat on the open air second deck, you’re in for a day full of stunning photographs. The Bus Turistic, as it’s called, is a short walk from where the port shuttle drops you off. There is a small flea market to explore on the way, which is one of my favorite things to do at home or abroad. We paid 36 Euro for a two-day pass, there are three different lines you can ride all over the huge city, and headsets for the guided narration are included in the ticket price.
Our first stop on the bus was the world famous La Sagrada Familia. This structure is easily the most famous in a city full of well-known and well-beloved landmarks. Construction began in the late 19th Century and is still not completed. The construction is funded entirely by the congregation, pilgrims, Gaudi devotees, and ticket sales. The cathedral was Gaudi’s crowning passion and he dedicated 43 years of his life to the work, most intensely at the end of his life when he cloistered himself in the workshop onsite. He is also buried in the cathedral itself. As an intensely devout Catholic, Gaudi was quoted as saying, “I will serve god through architecture. I will build a bible in stone.” Gaudi was walking home from his evening prayer ritual on 10 June 1926, when he was hit by a trolley. No one recognized him. He was rushed to a hospital for poor (many times anonymous) patients, where he died after receiving the last rites.
Gaudi’s primary inspirations for his architectural style are nature and light. He is known for his organic shapes and hand-formed style. It is very clear that he studied nature intently and sought to replicate the elegant logic of those patterns in his design. The moment I stepped foot in Sagrada Familia I gasped. I’ve seen thousands of photos and have studied it for years, but nothing could have prepared me for that moment. It’s powerful. Most people couldn’t make it three steps inside before they also gasped and threw their heads back to stare at the ceiling shaped like a forest canopy. You know instantly that this is something special. I love Europe and I’ve traveled all over the region extensively, so it’s with the pure love of an architecture buff that I say even the most stunning of cathedrals can begin to look the same after a long time abroad. After two hours in Sagrada Familia I was still seeing new details, still finding new points of light for photographs, and still slowly shaking my head at the brilliance of it. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
A quick logistical word about tickets to the cathedral: Buy early and buy online. They sell out quickly. Unless you’re spending many days in Barcelona, you could miss the chance to enter the cathedral. They sell the tickets by the hour at which you’re allowed to enter the cathedral. If you want to go up in one of the towers, they sell out even more quickly. Again, buy online and buy early. Do not wait in a two hour line in the hot sun only to find out the next available entry time is two days later. It happens. A lot. Buy early and buy online and don’t miss this masterpiece.
Jen and I rode both the red and the blue lines of the bus in full loops so that we had a sense of the city’s scale and key sites. We planned to make another loop and exit the bus at certain sites, but to be honest, it was time for tapas. We decided to wander the Barri Gotic in search of anything that looked authentic and interesting. Barcelona was founded as a Roman colony in 15 BCE and the Gothic Quarter is the oldest section of the city, built on the site of those Roman ruins. The neighborhood is still a political and cultural nerve center. The Catalan government headquarters and Barcelona City Hall are within a stone’s throw of the ancient cathedral…and amazing tapas. Dinner in Spain starts late, usually around 8-9pm. Tapas, or small plates meant to mix, match, and share, are served earlier and continue to be served late into the night (or should I say into the early morning). You’ll typically pay a surcharge to sit outside, but it’s well worth it to watch the locals go about their business and socialize with their friends.
We planned to walk off all the olives and freshly-made cheese by taking Las Ramblas down to Columbus Circle (the port). Las Ramblas is a long pedestrian street lined with trees, cafes, flower shops, and vendors of every kind. My favorite memory of Las Ramblas is the giant, ornate street lamps. Barcelona has earned the distinction of the pick pocket capital of the world, and Las Ramblas has the highest concentration of incidents. We felt perfectly safe and because it’s Spain, there was plenty of foot traffic even late into the evening. Don’t let the hype scare you away from this gorgeous experience, just be street smart.
The rest of our night was less exciting as we went back to our Noordam stateroom to pack for the journey home. Passengers were required to leave their luggage outside their stateroom door by 1:00am, with specific luggage tags attached. The Noordam crew shuttles them away and they are waiting at a specific drop point in the cruise terminal. The disembarkation process the next morning was one of the smoothest I’ve ever experienced. The breakfast buffet was crowded and felt a bit rushed, but the entire process was simple and clear. Listen for your luggage tag color / number combo over the PA system and head to the gangway on deck 2. Done.
I hope you enjoyed your virtual vacation. Until my next Live Voyage Report destination…bon voyage,
Holland America Line Noordam, Mediterranean Explorer
|Day 1 – Exploring Rome, Italy on ms Noordam||Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy||Step off the cruise ship, linger at a sidewalk café in the early evening, and take in the pageantry: The taste of cappuccino, the kiss of warm air, the immaculately attired locals getting their evenings started. Rome is nicknamed the Eternal City for the array of icons (Colosseum, Pantheon, Castel Sant'Angelo, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica), and for the role it played shaping the Western world. There is perhaps a less-recognized genius in the way the city embraces the sensual side of life, as if to acknowledge there's no eternity like the present.|
|Day 2 – Exploring Capri, Italy on Noordam||Capri, Italy||The docile bay, the peaceful, cypress-tufted islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri, and the muscular city of Naples itself. Over it all looms Mount Vesuvius: A volcano, national park, and persistent corrective to hubris. Cruise to see the only active volcano on the European mainland, which blew in A.D. 79 and buried the city of Pompeii. Naples itself is mere enduring greatness. One of the chief commercial cities of Europe, highlights include Castel dell'Ovo, Castelnuovo, and national museums dedicated to art and archaeology. The city center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the surrounding area is dotted with cultural and historical treasures, not least them the restored ruins of Pompeii.|
|Day 3 – Exploring Palermo, Sicily on Noordam||Palermo, Sicily, Italy||Traces of Roman, Arab, and Norman influences mix in Palermo. The highlight of the city is the Norman Palace with golden Byzantine mosaics.|
|Day 4 – Exploring Greenhouse Spa on Noordam||La Goulette (Tunis), Tunisia - CANCELLED DUE TO SECURITY CONCERNS||The stop in Tunisia was cancelled due to security concerns. The ship rerouted to Cagliari, Sardinia.|
|Day 6 – Exploring Pisa, Italy on Noordam||Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy||If one mistakes Livorno for another city across the Italian peninsula, all is be forgiven. The Venice District of town is a tangle of streets crisscrossed by canals. A beautiful Renaissance city in its own right, Livorno is also the gateway to Pisa (north) and Florence (west). Pisa is home to beautiful cathedrals, palaces, and bridges over the Arno River, as well as an infamous monument to faulty engineering. Florence represents so much of what is vital to human expression in commerce, politics, and the arts.|
|Day 7 – Exploring Calvi, France on Noordam||Calvi, Corsica, France||Rumored to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, Calvi is a small, stunningly beautiful beach resort town on the Island of Corsica (known to be the birthplace of Napoléon Bonaparte). Visit Notre Dame de la Serra Chapel and take in 360° views of the bay and surrounding mountains, explore the centuries-old fortress Citadel of Calvi, a remarkable example of Genoese architecture, and relish time relaxing on one of Corsica's secluded white sand beaches.|
|Day 8 – Exploring Nice and Eze, France on Noordam||Monte Carlo (Nice & Eze), Monaco||The principality of Monaco is the essence of the Riviera: couture fashion, grand yachts, and nightlife centered around its famed Casino.|
|Day 9 – Exploring Provence, France on Noordam||Marseille (Provence), France||A salty city with a feel and culture all its own. Try the renowned bouillabaisse or tour the lovely towns and vineyards of Provence.|
|Day 11 – Exploring Barcelona, Spain on Noordam||Barcelona, Spain (overnight)||Barcelona effuses the ancient, the modernist, and the Gaudi. Legend has it the city was founded by Hercules 400 years before the founding of Rome. Whatever the truth, the city today is a global capital of commerce, fashion, culture, and sunshine (300 days a year). Enjoy a walk down Las Ramblas, the glorious tree-shaded thoroughfare at the heart of the city. Claim a patch of sand on one of the city beaches. Do not miss the creations of visionary architect Antoni Gaudi. Seven of his creations are honored as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Mila.|
|Barcelona, Spain||Itinerary ends with a 6:00 am disembarkation.|