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John and Diane's Amazing Adventure - Part III


Johnny B

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April 9, 10 – Days 94, 95

Athens, Greece

 

Athens is one of those rare cities, like Rome, Cairo and Luxor, where every time you turn around you find 3,000 years of history staring you in the face. Sometimes, as happened yesterday, you try walking up a cobbled street and trip – over something that someone put in your way 2,500 years ago.

 

We docked in Piraeus, the port for Athens, at about 6:00 AM, but because of the gym, breakfast, showers, and whatever, we didn’t meet our friend Sky for our trip to Athens until 9:00. We had decided over dinner the evening before to take the HoHo bus – Hop on, Hop Off, which has the advantage of beginning in Piraeus and then continuing throughout Athens for a driving tour. While the ship offered a bus to Athens with a 2-hour visit there and a return drive later, we opted for the 20-euro HoHo, which not only gave us transportation into and out of Athens, but a really nice tour, too.

 

When we arrived at the Melina Merkouri stop (remember her from “Never on Sunday”?) we transferred from the bus from Piraeus to one which would take us on a tour of the city. We saw some things that we had seen on previous tours, but this time we saw some new things. For one thing, we saw two demonstrations, which we’ve read about in the newspapers, based on the current economic woes. Then we drove past the fruit/vegetable/meat/fish market. Even if we hadn’t seen it, we could have smelled the fish. The market took up about three blocks and if we’d had more time, we would have hopped off to take a closer look.

 

When we arrived back at Ms Merkouri’s stop (named for her work as an elected representative in Greece after her film career), we began walking up toward the Plaka, the oldest section of Athens, which sits below the Acropolis. As we began up the hill, we passed a corner, looked left and saw the extremely well located hotel where we stayed with students in 2007 (I think that was the year). On the corner, across from each other, were two tavernas which the chaperones and adults frequented from time to time. One evening we were sitting there minding our own business when, seemingly out of nowhere, a dead pigeon dropped from the tree next to us to the ground. It was a bit creepy.

 

We continued through the Plaka, stopping at some shops and trying to locate the great little gyro restaurant where we had enjoyed lunch on our last visit. We finally found it, but then walked more until we had explored as much as we wanted. Making our way back to the restaurant, we chose an outside table under an awning and a tree as it began to rain. It continued for the rest of the afternoon, and it just got colder and colder.

 

After lunch we walked back down to the bus stop, waited for our yellow bus back to Piraeus, and then headed back “home.” We spent a few hours back at the ship before deciding that it was time to go find some dinner while overlooking the water. One particular area had been recommended, so after we walked halfway, we caught a taxi for the rest of the trip – at a cost of about 3.7 euros.

 

We found ourselves in the harbor for fishing boats, which made John feel right at home since his father was a fisherman in Cayucos and Morro Bay. We were (fairly aggressively) “courted” by the restaurant hosts – even from across the street – and finally settled on a little place called “Captain John’s,” for obvious reasons. The food was good, but there was too much of it. We began with a fish soup and bread, continued to a really delicious Greek salad, and finished with a shared seafood platter. Some of the deep fried delicacies appealed, and some did not. I loved the crispy baby calamari and the (beyond) jumbo shrimp, and I even tried a couple of the whole little fish – but I couldn’t bring myself to eat the heads. I tried a couple of fried sardines, but they had bits that didn’t want to be chewed up, and I completely skipped the octopus, which I have eaten occasionally. The whole meal, including a bottle of water and a Greek beer, cost less than 40 euros with tax and tip. Such a deal.

 

It was then time to catch a taxi back to the ship, and this one was all the way up to 4 euros, but we managed. It was pretty quiet, and we actually got to sleep at about 10:00.

 

* * * * * * * * *

 

This morning we managed our regular daily routine of gym/breakfast/shower, and then we decided (John’s idea) to take the little white train which tours Piraeus. Since we hadn’t seen much of the port city yesterday, it was a good opportunity to do so today. Piraeus is really a nice little city, and the tour enabled us to see a good part of it. I know that many cities have trees lining their streets, but here they are orange (or tangerine) trees. Not only are they very pretty, with dark shiny green leaves and lots of fruit on them, but they’re also covered with blossoms whose fragrance can be appreciated from quite a distance. We picked up the train near the ship, and it had two stops: one at the main shopping square and another at the Archeological Museum. The first time around, John and I and our friend Renee decided just to stay on and see everything. The second time, however, we made a stop at the shopping square, just to pop into a café for coffee. We reboarded about 45 minutes later, and this time John and I disembarked at the museum, because it was near the Carrefour grocery store. We stocked up on the usual necessities (we even found salt and vinegar chips – my favorite), and then walked up over the hill and back to the ship in time for a late lunch.

 

It’s been a great two days, during which we had the opportunity to revisit some wonderful sights in Athens and to discover new ones in Piraeus. For many of the passengers (including us) and crew, however, one of the best things about this port was the free WiFi in the port building which carried over to the starboard side of the ship. Simple minds, simple pleasures!

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Konichi-wa from Tokyo, Japan! I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts even from this distance; we had some hotel time this morning and I thought I'd check to see where you were in your world cruise. We are here for a couple of weeks to celebrate our son's wedding on the 14th, but I wanted to stop in and wish you a continued good journey.

 

A question - will you have a site for your photos? I'm loving your descriptions, but would really appreciate seeing your photos of the various locations as well.

 

Smooth Sailing! :) :) :)

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It was very good to read about your exploits in Athens and Piraeus. Not long now and we will be there ourselves. We might take the HoHo bus as well.

You didn't say anything about the Acropolis. You probably saw that on a previous trip. Do you know if the HoHo bus goes there too?

We're only there for 1 day, so we cannot fit as much in as you do.

I keep on enjoying tour writings enormously. I must congratulate you on your well written diary. Are you a journalist by profession?

Keep up the good work. And as your wonderful trip will come to an end fairly soon, I will miss your uplifting blog and terrific information and tips. My husband and I have learnt a lot from you.

All the best for the future and we may read you again one day.

Regards

Ineke and Richard

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April 11 – Happy Birthday Jessica

Day 96 – Katakolon (for Olympia) Greece

 

Well, we’ve finally done it. We’ve run in an Olympic race. Of course there were only a couple of us running, and we were running in a stadium that hasn’t been used for anything very competitive in 2,000 years, but run we did. We did learn that the stadium was used for the 2004 Olympic shot put, but our running today was of course much more important.

 

We docked at Katakolon, one of the ports for Olympia, and just planned to wander around the town. However, our friend Sky had never been to Olympia, so we found a cab and made the 30-minute drive there. John and I visited this World Heritage Site in 1969, as a shore excursion on the Stella Oceanis, and it seemed like a good idea to check it out again. The differences were striking. Not only had more parts of the complex been unearthed, but the fact that we’re in spring now instead of summer as we were last time makes a huge difference. Then, everything was brown and blended in with the ruins. This time, everything is green and we were lucky enough to arrive while the trees were in blossom with dark pink flowers.

 

We wandered through the ruins and saw a group of people around a small area, so we headed over there. It turns out that that ruin is where the Olympic torch is lighted every two years and proceeds to wherever that year’s Olympics are being held. Next time they speak of lighting the torch, I’ll be able to picture where it was done.

 

Our ultimate destination was the ancient Olympic stadium, now a dirt oval surrounded by sloping grass on all sides. We learned that there were not proper seats for the ancient contests except one small area for the judges (which still exists). There was a large group of French high school students who were having a wonderful time. They were having races and rewarding the winner with an olive wreath. It reminded us very much of the student tours we escorted to Europe every other summer for twenty years, each with 40-45 students.

 

After our “Olympic” exercise, we continued around the ruins, trying to take the best photos combining the pillars with the lovely blossoms. I can’t wait to put them up on the computer and see how they turned out. Then it was time for our drive back to Katakolon, where we had our driver drop us at the top of the town so that we could wander along the main street looking through the shops. We only bought two bags of olives and a shot glass for our friend Brett’s collection. Brett is the Assistant Cruise Director and DJ, and just an all-around good guy.

 

Since there are about a dozen cafes overlooking the harbor, we decided it was necessary to find the best one for lunch. We walked past several, but then, seeing the Dining Room Manager, the Pinnacle Manager, and the Assistant Food and Beverage Manager eating at one small café, we decided it had to be good. Sky just wanted another gyro and a Mythos beer, but John and I shared a Greek salad, a plate of fried feta cheese, and some moussaka. It was really delicious.

 

During lunch, we saw tons of people with their computers, so we now knew the big secret: free internet (the magic words). After a quick trip to the ship to pick up our laptop and I-pad, we found a cute little outdoor café where we could check up on our email, delete about 50 pieces of spam, and do some bookkeeping. Then it was time to head back to the ship, since all aboard was at 3:30. We sailed away five minutes early, heading for Messina, Italy in Sicily – a place we’ve never visited but have been curious about for some time.

 

Our three days in Greece were great, but very, very different. Athens is a vibrant city with people everywhere and a lot of pollution. When we first visited, in 1970 as part of a group of 22 Methodist work team students, it was run by the military junta, referred to now as “The Colonels.” Now it’s so free that people feel free to demonstrate anywhere, and because of the current economic crisis, they’re doing it every day. Piraeus was a nice city, much smaller than Athens, but still very much a port city. Katakolon is really just a small seafront village, and we loved the whole feel of it. The water and air were clean, the fish was fresh, and the people were very friendly. It was a good day and a good (if too short) stay in Greece.

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In answer to your question, the HoHo bus stops about 10 minutes from the Acropolis, so you should have no problem getting there. Also, no I'm not a journalist, but a retired English teacher (as is John). Thanks for your nice words.

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Your sense of adventure and excitement for places you've been and new ports is absolutely wonderful. I look forward to your detailed reports every morning. Thank you for letting us cruise with you. Cherie

 

p.s. Please tell your friends, Greg and Heo, that I lurk on their blog and have been enjoying their photos and posts!!!!

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April 12 – Day 97

Messina, Italy

 

We’ve never been to Sicily before, but of course have heard lots of stories about it. This is the source of The Godfather saga and the home of The Mafia. Italians make jokes about their Sicilian cousins, and we didn’t really know what to expect.

 

After one day, we really don’t have a lot of experience at knowing much about Sicily except that we’d really like to come back. Messina is a beautiful city, with domed churches dotting the city’s hills. One church in particular, which I think was Madonna di Montalto, sits above the city in Renaissance glory with a beautiful dome above.

 

Instead of staying in Messina to explore, we opted to go to Taormina, about an hour by train down the coast. Apparently it was Winston Churchill’s favorite place to vacation and overlooks a beautiful turquoise and blue sea. Friends from the ship told us that the taxi drivers wanted $150.00 for the drive there, waiting two hours and then returning. We opted for the train, however. It was $3.95 (euros) per person each way, for a grand total of less than 16 euros. Added to that, however, were the 15 euros each way for a taxi from the train station down by the beach waaaaaay up to the top of the hill.

 

We knew the town had lots of ruins, but we didn’t realize how charming it would be. Taormina is a city set up on a hill, reached by driving a large number of switchbacks to arrive in what looks like a medieval town. Of course there are shops everywhere, as well as restaurants, gelaterias, snack shops and hotels. Two of the hotels in particular were quite grand and glorious, and I would have loved to have stayed a few nights to enjoy them.

 

At the very top of the hill is the Roman arena, which, considering that it is 2,000 years old, is in darned good condition. It costs 8 euros to go in, but we thought it was well worth the price. Since it’s spring, there is grass growing on the slopes, and the old walls and arches make it look like a movie set. The view from up there is wonderful; we could look across the bay at Mt. Etna, which was smoking up the sky and looked ready to erupt.

 

After a couple of hours, our time ran out, so we found another taxi to take us back to the train station. The train ride is well worth the trip, because it meanders along the shore and there are some beautiful beaches and crystal clear water.

 

On the way back to the ship from the train, we dropped into a deli, where we picked up all the necessities for a picnic supper. We bought salami, prosciutto, provolone, freshly made bread, some tiny cherry tomatoes stuffed with cheese and breadcrumbs, and cooked and marinated artichokes (carciofi in Italian), my favorite vegetable. At about 7:00 we set up our picnic on the aft deck so that we could watch the city lights come up as it got dark, and then we watched as the ship quietly slipped away from the dock. Some nights it’s nice not to have to dress for dinner and order three courses.

 

Tomorrow is Naples, and we’re looking forward to it especially because Giorgia, our Italian exchange student from last year, will be coming to meet us with her family. It’s been almost a year since she flew home, and we’ve missed her a great deal. So, off to bed early to get rested up from my cold to have a wonderful day tomorrow.

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Diane and John,

 

That would have to be one of the nicest days you have had and to finish it off with a wonderful Italian picnic, I can think of nothing better.

 

As I have mentioned before, I am loving your posts and will be so sorry when they finish finally at the end of the cruise.

 

Jennie

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Oh, a picnic, it sounds delightful. I've never thought of that. I am really enjoyig your posts as you seem to be enjoying your cruise. Enjoy what is left of it and have a good time tomorrow meeting the parents of the young lady who stayed with you.

 

Helen

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April 13 – Day 98

Naples, Italy

 

What a wonderful day we had, even though we saw very little of Naples. We had a reunion with our wonderful exchange daughter Giorgia and her family after almost a year. During the 2010-2011 school year, we hosted two exchange daughters, Giorgia from Pesaro, Italy and Francoise (Fan) from near Liege, Belgium. They were the perfect exchange students: easy-going, hard-working, adaptable, and able to love each other like sisters. They fit into our little family beautifully, were great companions for our granddaughter when our daughter’s family visited, and “practically perfect in every way,” just like Mary Poppins.

 

We had hoped that both girls would be able to fly to Barcelona to spend our two-day port stop with us there, but because of exams (Giorgia hopes to attend medical university next year), only Fan and her sister Laura can come. However, Giorgia and her parents were able to make the 5-hour drive from Pesaro (directly east of Florence) to Naples to arrive this morning at 10:00. We hugged and kissed and generally were very glad to see each other. It was also great to be able to meet her mom, whom we had met only on Skype.

 

We took a tour of the ship, which Emanuella compared to a little city, and then headed out, in the rain, for a brief walking tour of the area around the port. Naples is really a nice city, but I’m sure it would have been even nicer had it not been raining. John and I have been here only twice, but not to see the city. The first time was in 1970 with a Methodist work team, when we took the train down from Rome to see Pompeii. However, that day the bus and taxi drivers were on strike, so there was no way to get out to the site. We just had our picnic lunch across the street from the train station and then traveled back to Rome. Later, we stopped in Naples with a student group in the early 2000’s to climb Mt. Vesuvius and to board the ferry to Capri. Neither time did we get much of a look at the city.

 

It’s a busy place, as are most big cities, and we saw some lovely churches and plazas. There is a particularly lovely shopping area called the Galleria Umberto which is almost a full city block with medieval arches and openings on all four sides to the city.

 

We decided on an early lunch, and the recommended restaurant was called Rossopomodoro (red tomato). It was two floors of happy diners, almost all Italian, which is always a good sign. John and I expressed a desire for pizza, but Massimo and Emanuella told us that this was Italy and we had to have pasta and then pizza. My choice of pasta was gnocco (the same as gnocci) with a tomato sauce, fresh cherry tomatoes, chopped basil, and cheese. Yummmm! John and Giorgia had a pasta called castania, with chopped chestnuts, bacon, mushrooms and cheese. John thought it was one of the best pastas he had ever eaten. Emanuella and Massimo each had a dish of a large pasta with swordfish chunks. I had a bite and it was good, but I preferred my gnocco.

 

After I was totally stuffed with my pasta, here came the pizzas. Fortunately we only had two margarita pizzas served, and the five of us didn’t even finish them. In Italy, as in most of Europe, each person usually orders his/her own pizza and eats it with a knife and fork, but because of how much we had had already, we only managed two – and left a piece on the plate. The wine accompanying the meal was just perfect – a medium-bodied red which didn’t stuff up my nose because Italy doesn’t use sulfites in their wine. You’d think we’d had enough to eat already, but Massimo insisted that we had to have desserts characteristic of the area, so we first were served three pieces of an absolutely wonderful treat. It’s like a large piece of baba au rhum, cut in half and filled with whipped cream and strawberries. Oh, was that delicious. It’s amazing how “I can’t eat another bite of anything” can translate into “Well, it is a local delicacy so I’d better try it.” Another two plates had slices of something like a cassata on a pool of custard. I didn’t even dare try a bite of that one. After the dessert, John and Massimo had to have a grappa – for digestive purposes, of course.

 

After lunch we wandered through some more historical areas of Naples (more to fight off a food coma than to see anything), and eventually made our way back to the port. The port building is obviously new and had every kind of shop you’d want in one large building. We stopped at the café and had postprandial coffees before having to say goodbye. Giorgia’s family told us to come and visit in Pesaro and we told them that they’d be welcome in California any time they could come.

 

Although it was a short visit, it was pretty much just like old times with Giorgia, and it was wonderful to meet her “other family.” She and her mother obviously have a close relationship, and we really liked Massimo who, although he lives in Pesaro, retains his San Marino citizenship. We’d very much like to visit them in Italy later this summer, but who knows? Today just made clear that people are far more important than places.

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Thanks for your report!

We will be in Naples later this year, is Rossopomodoro within walking distance of the Port??? We would love to have a late lunch there if so! Thanks in advance :D

Rossopomodoro is a chain, a la Pizza Hut, with locations in Europe, the US, Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

 

There is a location quite close to the cruise port near Teatro San Carlo. Web site for specific location is here: http://web.rossopomodoro.com/italiano/page.aspx?content=0&domain=&root=677&lang=IT&docs=1

 

(Sorry for jumping in, but I figured I could answer this question quickly and my internet time is a whole lot less expensive than Diane's.)

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Diane and John,

 

What a wonderful day you had and thanks for describing your wonderful lunch. I know I wouldn't have been able to eat any more after the gnocci!!

 

Hope the weather improves for your next few ports.

 

Jennie

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Rossopomodoro is a chain, a la Pizza Hut, with locations in Europe, the US, Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

 

There is a location quite close to the cruise port near Teatro San Carlo. Web site for specific location is here: http://web.rossopomodoro.com/italiano/page.aspx?content=0&domain=&root=677&lang=IT&docs=1

 

(Sorry for jumping in, but I figured I could answer this question quickly and my internet time is a whole lot less expensive than Diane's.)

 

Euro Cruiser- Thanks! :D I appreciate the information.

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April 14 – Day 99

Ajaccio, Corsica, France

 

Remember Napoleon – the little guy with his hand in his jacket? The one who caused so much trouble in Europe at one time? Well, we’ve spent today in the town where he was born. He was often called, derogatorily, “The Little Corsican,” because the French (and the English) thought nothing good could come from this small island in the Mediterranean.

 

We were quite pleased to visit a French island, being the Francophiles we are. John’s French is pretty darned good, and I can read a menu and street signs with the best of them. We also know that we can get a good meal anywhere French (as well as Italy, of course). We began the day with our 10:00 AM arrival here, right in the middle of the city – always a huge plus. We were almost right across the street from the daily market in the Place Foch, so together with Sky, we began there, walking up one side and down the other, enjoying the sights, sounds, and especially the smells of a daily French market. We appreciated the cheeses, the preserved meats, the flowers, fruits, vegetables, and oh, the breads! We tried some offered samples, and just really enjoyed mingling.

 

The market square is the departure point for the 90-minute tour by little white train around the city and out to the rocky islets next to the mainland. The rocky hills that come down to the sea put us in mind of the coast at Santa Barbara, about 90-minutes from our home. We saw the statue of Napoleon and his brothers, the statue of Napoleon dressed as Caesar, Napoleon in his emperor’s outfit – you pretty much get the picture here. However, there are also Roman ruins and artifacts from early Christian settlements. Ajaccio is really a charming city, the largest on Corsica, and seems to be a combination of Italian and French influences, which is appropriate because it was owned by Genoa until they sold it to France in the late 1700’s.

 

After we finished our tour at 12:30, the restaurant hunt began. We wanted something identifiably French (not a big challenge here), but also something warm, since it was pretty clouded over and windy. The three of us settled on a little (tiny, really) restaurant whose tables were outside, but with plastic walls and roof – and a heater! John had a chicken sandwich on a baguette, Sky ordered a ham and cheese panini, and I had a croque monsieur, the French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. They were all very good, and the guys decided to cut theirs in two and trade halves. I was the only one whose lunch came with fries, so I shared those, too. Lunch was really very good.

 

Since we were on the Napoleon trail, we headed to the Maison Bonaparte, the home in which little Napoleon and his seven brothers and sisters were born. It turns out that Madame Bonaparte was an extremely strong woman, and she had to be, since she was left a widow when her 39-year-old husband died, leaving her with eight children to raise Fortunately, she was a very wealthy widow, but it still couldn’t have been easy. The house has four stories and was the largest in Ajaccio at the time. Now it’s down a little alleyway, but the insides have been restored beautifully, with much of the original furniture. I always think it’s interesting to get a picture of another era by going through a home from the past. It’s what’s NOT there that’s interesting: no bathrooms, no kitchen – although there had to be facilities for those things somewhere at the time. Each room had a fireplace and the furniture, although beautiful, didn’t look very comfortable. I think to be middle class now is far more comfortable than to be rich 200 years ago.

 

By the time we finished our tour, which had included a hand-held mechanical narration device for more information, it was time to head to the Monoprix, far and away one of our favorite French stores. On one floor they carry clothing, toiletries, household goods, and so forth, but either upstairs or downstairs, there’s a great grocery store. We actually didn’t buy anything, but we had a good time wandering up and down the aisles. I’m one of those people who loves grocery shopping, and although John doesn’t like to go with me at home, he enjoys stores in foreign cities.

 

I’ve been fighting a cold, so I was all toured out, and headed back to the ship. John wanted to see a little more, so he wandered on for awhile. I wanted to get in a nap, since we’ll be spending the next two days with our Belgian exchange student Francoise and her sister Laura and I don’t want to let this silly cold get me down. We really enjoyed our day on Corsica and our visit with Napoleon.

 

The captain just came on over the PA system and told us that there is stormy weather throughout the Mediterranean which will cause four or five hours of very rough seas tonight. It should be exciting.

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April 14 – Day 99

Ajaccio, Corsica, France

 

I’ve been fighting a cold, so I was all toured out, and headed back to the ship. John wanted to see a little more, so he wandered on for awhile. I wanted to get in a nap, since we’ll be spending the next two days with our Belgian exchange student Francoise and her sister Laura and I don’t want to let this silly cold get me down. We really enjoyed our day on Corsica and our visit with Napoleon.

 

The captain just came on over the PA system and told us that there is stormy weather throughout the Mediterranean which will cause four or five hours of very rough seas tonight. It should be exciting.

 

I hope the seas weren't too rough and your cold didn't develop, so you can enjoy your two days in Barcelona with your Belgian exchange student. Port intensive Mediterranean cruising can be exhausting!

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April 15, 16 Days 100, 101

Barcelona, Spain

 

What a wonderful two days we had in Barcelona! We met Francoise, our exchange daughter and her sister Laura, we toured the city, we ate tapas and paella and drank a pitcher of sangria – what more could we want? We arrived at the port of Barcelona at 12:00 noon on Sunday, were almost the first people off the ship and onto the shuttle in our excitement, and when we exited the bus at the Mirador de Colom statue, there they were! It’s been almost a year, but as with Giorgia, nothing has changed. We hugged and kissed cheeks and told each other how good we all looked; in their case it was true!

 

Since we were near the Hop On, Hop Off bus, we decided that it was a good way to begin our time in Barcelona. It was sunny out, so the uncovered top of the bus was our choice of seating area. The tour took us throughout the center of the city, including some Gaudi buildings, port Olympia, the largest soccer stadium in Europe, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s amazingly unique church which will not be completed in our lifetimes, and many other things that make this city so wonderful.

 

About 2:00 we decided it was “hop off” time, so we headed to a tapas restaurant we had a wonderful repast with tapas made from potatoes, shrimp, thinly sliced meet and other yummy things. Afterwards, we continued the tour, but then the clouds came over and the rain began, so the canvas roof over the top floor was extended, but it was still too cold for Laura and me, so we went downstairs and huddled together to stay warm. We finished the tour at Catalunya Square, at the top of La Rambla, the wonderful strolling street in central Barcelona with cafes, restaurants, and shops seemingly without end. Of course, there is the occasional pickpocket, so caution is always recommended.

 

Because the cold and the rain continued, the girls decided that the place to stop would be the huge Starbucks on La Rambla, one of many in Barcelona. We had no sooner picked up our drinks than an energetic group of about 50 Italian students entered the shop en masse. It reminded us just too much of our own student groups over the years to make us do more than smile.

 

It was now time to stop by the girls’ hotel, make sure we had chosen it well, and then head out to the ship for the evening. Fan and Laura surprised us with gifts from Belgium: chocolates and beer. They know us well! We took the shuttle back to the Amsterdam and, after heading to our cabin to give them their gifts, we had a tour of the ship. After Laura got over her fear that the ship, although at dock, would sink during her visit, she thoroughly enjoyed her time on board, as did Fan.

 

We were very pleased to have the girls join us at our table for dinner, and our tablemates were glad to finally meet them, after having heard about them ad nauseum for three months. Our tablemates were even happier when we broke out the largest box of chocolates after dinner and passed it around the table two or three times until Andy, our assistant table steward, took the box and hid it, pretending that he was going to steal it.

Dinner was followed by some time in the piano bar listening to Debby Bacon play old favorites, until it was time for them to take a late shuttle back to the city center and their hotel.

 

This morning we began earlier, having agreed to meet at their hotel at 10:00. Since John believes that if you’re not early you’re late, we left on the 9:00 shuttle, but we also wanted to locate a restaurant that Greg and Heo had recommended for lunch. It was called Restaurante Ferran, and since it was on a street of the same name, it was easy to find and fairly near to the girls’ hotel. Along the way, we discovered a beautiful square called Placa Reial, lined with charming cafes and centered with a flower-decorated fountain.

 

Before it was time to meet, we headed to La Boqueria, the wonderful covered market just off La Rambla. If you have a trip to Barcelona planned, DO NOT miss this market. It is huge and has everything you could want to eat: fruit, vegetables, meat, fresh (caught this morning) fish, bread, candy, and things I’m sure I left out. Several of the separate markets have bars where customers can pull up a bar stool and order whatever the specialty may be. I could spend hours here, but instead spent just about 20 minutes before it was time to head over to the girls’ hotel.

 

After we picked them up for a walking tour of the Ciutat Vella, or Old City, we wandered among the narrow winding streets, looking into little shops and reading menus, stopping into the cathedral and doing a lot of people watching. Because Laura was flying home today and had to leave her hotel at 1:30, we opted for an early lunch, almost unheard of in any Spanish town. When we went into our pre-selected restaurant at 12:00, the hostess looked at us with surprise but agreed that we could sit at a table in the window. The girls ordered tapas and John and I ordered paella, accompanied by sangria. Had we known how big a pan of paella would be brought out for two people, we would have ordered for one and just shared. It was wonderful, with a base of saffron rice, and topped with calamari rings, huge shrimp, pieces of chicken, mussels, and what seemed to be a small lobster tail.

 

After waving goodbye at the airport shuttle stop, the three of us spent more time in La Boqueria, with Fan choosing a gift for her dad (Serrano ham) and a baguette sandwich for her dinner. I bought a lovely little box of bright red strawberries, part of which I left for Fan’s dinner, and after heartfelt goodbyes, we headed back to the ship for our 6:00 sailaway. The special drink for sailaway was more sangria to say “adios” to Barcelona.

 

We had a wonderful visit with Francoise and Laura and enjoyed Barcelona perhaps even more than on previous trips. We are already anxious to both see Francoise and Giorgia again and to return to Barcelona.

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Diane and John,

 

Another wonderful read. So glad you had such a great visit with Fran and Laura. Barcelona is a fantastic city with so much to see and of course eat!

 

Thanks again for sharing.

 

Jennie

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