Thursday, December 11, 2008

Barcelona Bites

In Barcelona we stayed at the Apsis Atrium Palace Hotel, very conveniently located on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, about two blocks east of Passeig de Gracia. We arrived about 10 a.m. and fortunately our room (a very nice one overlooking Gran Via) was already ready. I'd had about 2 hours worth of sleep on the plane (Naoyuki, I think, managed perhaps 3-4) and it was really good to get in a powernap before heading out to see the city.

We walked down to la Placa de Catalunya, where the Tourism Office is located, and where we picked up our tickets for the Bus Turistic, which is a very handy way to get around town, since it has a map, two routes, narrated descriptions in six different languages, and it's just a matter of getting on or off at the designated stops. I'm sure the local subway system would have worked just as well (and would have been quite a bit cheaper) but I wasn't up to figuring it out.

From Placa Catalunya we walked to the Barri Gotic, the Gothic Quarter, and then by the Gothic cathedral (which is being renovated) before finding our way (down a series of tiny alleyways) to the Museu Picasso, which is located in a former palace dating to the 15th century. One thing we noted was that Barcelonans don't appear to be particularly interested in explanatory signage. Go here to buy a ticket, go there to check your bag, have this ticket to go into this part, that ticket to go into another part. Quite confusing, especially in our sleep-deprived state, but we just kept saying "gracias, gracias" and "si vou plau" and it all seemed to work.

Most of Picasso's major works are elsewhere, of course, not in the Museu Picasso, which focuses on his time in Barcelona (teens through early 20s) before he moved on to Paris. Of course, Picasso being Picasso, he still managed to churn out an amazing amount of stuff, dabbling in all the major movements of the day (impressionism, nightlife a la Toulouse-Lautrec) before setting off in his own direction. In direct reaction to our experience in New Zealand and Australia,
I bought oodles and oodles of postcards, there and just about everywhere else along the way.

After the Picasso museum, we headed to La Barceloneta, the former fishing village on a peninsula between Port Vell, Barcelona's old harbor, and the Mediterranean. It was a brisk day, sunny but no more than upper 50s and a bit breezy, and yet we found half a dozen people in the water. Naoyuki was intent in finding a restaurant, Can Majo, on the beach side, that had been well-reviewed. It was quite charming and the food was very tasty (we had a seafood paella)
but by that time the sun was over on the marina side of the peninsula and we were a bit shivery. (And if you look at the pix of us there you can see just how exhausted we looked!)

We headed from there back to Placa Catalunya and then, well, I can't quite recall the order. I think we took the Bus Turistic up to Casa Mila, Gaudi's famous apartment building (known to Barcelonans as La Pedrera, "the rockpile") but we may have gone to the hotel and taken another short nap first (or perhaps we did afterwards.)

Regardless, Casa Mila is a marvel, the sort of place that gives you goose pimples a la "I've never seen anything like this before." Wandering the rooftop at sunset was a delight, even though, again, we were dead tired and whenever we stopped moving I thought I was going to fall over.

In any event, we walked back to the Hotel, took a nap, and then got ready for dinner around the corner at Casa Calvet, Gaudi's last commissioned work, a private residence that has been turned into a restaurant. We had the chef's menu, which, along with the service, was outstanding. (Naoyuki's experience was slightly marred by the presence of yet-another-group! of noisy tourists from very rural Japan.) At Casa Calvet we determined that what we thought we had observed at Can Majo was correct, namely, they will NOT bring you the check unless / until you ask for it. Fortunately, most people in Barcelona we encountered spoke English fluently or enough so that my 20 words of Spanish were all we needed to get by.

The next morning we had breakfast in the Hotel's cafe, then ventured back up Passeig de Gracia, this time to visit another Gaudi house, the otherworldly Casa Battlo. Think "Hobbit" crossed with "Smurfs" and you might come close to the effect it has -- not a straight line in the whole place! Lots of turistas, of course, although it was very clear that November is very much offseason. I can't imagine being there in the high season; I'm sure my latent claustrophobia would be an issue. The best part was on the terrace when a cute young woman came and
asked me in Spanish if I'd take a picture of her and her friends, then turned to the group and started speaking English. "Thanks!" I told them and we had a good laugh.

From there we headed next door to Casa Amatller, a Puig-designed residence that is very different from Gaudi's yet thoroughly distinctive in its own right. Unlike Casa Battlo, you can only visit the grand foyer and the gift / chocolate shop (the Amatller family were noted chocolatiers in 19th Century Barcelona) adjacent to it. Then it was back to Placa Catalunya to hop the Bus Turistic for the trip up to Montjuic, the big hill overlooking Barcelona to the west, site of the 1929 Barcelona Expo (think Mies van der Rohe), the 1992 Olympics, and a museum dedicated to another of Barcelona's famous artists, Joan Miro.

After Joan Miro, we hopped off the bus at Port Vell (the old port, near Placa de Colomb) and walked up Las Ramblas to Placa Catalunya and back to our hotel. From the Atrium Palace we took another taxi, this time to the cruise terminal and our ship, Celebrity Century. Compared to some previous years, getting aboard was a piece of cake and we were in our stateroom and sipping champagne on the veranda overlooking Montjuic by 4 p.m.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Western Mediterranean Trip: Overview

We did an amazing amount of stuff in less than two weeks!
Here’s a quick run down of the places we visited:

• Barcelona (11/20-21 and then again 12/1-2)
• Arles and Les Baux (via Marseille), 11/22
• Nice and Monaco (via Villefranche), 11/23
• Pisa and Florence (via Livorno), 11/24
• Rome (via Civitavecchia), 11/25
• Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, and Pompeii (via) Naples, 11/26
• Tunis, Tunisia, 11/29

We were scheduled to visit Malta on the 28th of November but the weather was so rough the
Maltese weren’t letting ships into or out of the port of Valletta! Maybe next time!

Our neighbors took us to the Buffalo airport Wednesday a.m., 11/19, and our flight
to Atlanta left about 12:30 p.m. The flight to Barcelona departed Atlanta about 5:45 p.m.,
arrived Barcelona the next morning about 9 a.m. (3 a.m. Buffalo time.)

Coming back on Tuesday, 12/2, we departed Barcelona about 10 a.m. and made it back
home about 8 o’clock that evening (2 a.m. the next day in Barcelona.)