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Middle Aged Drama Queen's Eastern Med Review: Serenade, Pics, Surprises & Fun!

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Sounds pricey, but for what you got it was a nice splurge and sounds like it was worth it! When we return, we need to do this!


Gosh for that whole experience and all I don't think that is pricey at all!


I'm dreamin! Can't get the hubby to go abroad....

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Eventually, it is time to meet back up at the bus stop at the Plaza de Catalunya, for the 2nd part of our Gaudi tour with Barcelona City Tours. I find an Orange-Umbrella Lady, and mention that we are here for Part #2. She motions me over to a bus where people are already in line, boarding.


We head over and stand in line, and as I approach, I see that Carlos is now gone and we have a new guide, Ellie. As I start to board the bus, she immediately stops me and asks, “Where is your ticket?”


Oh, yes. My ticket. The one that I didn’t think I had, but really did. I reach triumphantly into my purse and hand her the ticket…and start to board the bus.


Again, she stops me…looking a bit confused at the ticket…and says, “This isn’t the right ticket. Do you have a different ticket?”


“What do you mean, it’s ‘not the right ticket’?” I ask. “That’s the only ticket they gave me this morning.”


Ellie indicates the rip in the corner, where Carlos had torn it earlier, and says, “This ticket is only for Part 1 of the tour. You should have a different ticket for Part 2.”


Oh, brother. Really???!!


“I never got another ticket…that’s the only ticket I got,” I explain.


Ellie looks confused, and asks, “You didn’t get another ticket? Are you sure?”


“I’m pretty sure, “ I reply.


About that time, Ellie begins waving over one of the Orange-Umbrella Ladies. Here we go again, folks…it’s déjà-vu all over again.


The Orange-Umbrella Lady walks over and she and Ellie begin an animated conversation in Spanish, too fast for me to understand, and I stand there…in the sun…once again holding up the line.


The people behind us begin fidgeting, and a murmur begins in the crowd. Eventually, my kids take note and direct their attention to me.


“What’s up, Mom? Why aren’t you getting on the bus?”


I explain that I didn’t have the right ticket…that I only had Part 1, and I didn’t have Part 2.


And the kids look at me in exasperation and say, “MOM!!! You do TOO have a Part 2 ticket!!! It’s in your purse – where you put it this morning when you turned in the voucher!!!!”


OMG. Really? I peek into my purse, almost hoping they’d be proved wrong this time, but nope. There it was. My Part 2 ticket.




Clearing my throat, I get Ellie’s attention enough to show her my ticket…the Orange-Umbrella Lady glares at me, does an indignant “Humpf!” under her breath, stalks away…and I slink on the bus…thoroughly chagrined.


Ellie looks at me as I pass, narrowing her eyes, and says, “Hey…I think Carlos warned me about you.”


After finding a seat on the now-crowded bus, I can only watch in shame as my children all find seats on the bus far, far from me, while pretending they don’t know me…and who can blame them?


I say to no one in particular, "What can I say? I'm really, really tired. Maybe I'll get some sleep tonight."


Hubby Mike just gives me THE LOOK. If you've been married for a significant amount of time, you know THE LOOK I'm talking about. Ack. I hate being on the receiving end of THE LOOK...as normally, I'm the one administering THE LOOK. I can only hope and pray that my world will turn around and I will be, once again, Woman. Hear Me Roar.


But enough of the ticket saga…let’s get on with our Gaudi tour.


OMG, you poor thing! Been there, done that! My kids and DH never let me hold maps or things like this for fear of my doing EXACTLY this! Must be a mom thing?

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OMG, you poor thing! Been there, done that! My kids and DH never let me hold maps or things like this for fear of my doing EXACTLY this! Must be a mom thing?


I'm blaming my lack of sleep...but the family would tell you I would do this even in my most lucid moments!!! So, you're right - it must be a Mom thing. :rolleyes:

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The now-crowded bus (there were 37 people for Part 2 of the tour) wings its way over to one of Gaudi’s highlights, Parc Guell. After visiting Parc Guell in 2009, it remains one of my most-favorite places in Barcelona to visit…and I am anxious to see how the kids like it.


It seems that we’ve been on the bus for quite some time, when I realize that we are stuck in a traffic jam. Huh. Don’t see these too often in Barcelona, so curious now, I begin paying attention out the window to see if I can figure out what the problem is.


It quickly becomes clear what the problem is; there are too many giant tour buses (including ours) that are all trying to converge on the small Parc Guell parking lot. There simply isn’t room for all of us, and so we…like several other tour buses…are now stuck in the street, impatiently waiting for other tour buses to clear out and make way.


And that it happenin’ any time soon.


We sit…and sit…and sit…and soon see piles and piles of tourists, snaking their way up past our bus from behind us…their own tour guides have given up on trying to find a parking spot, and are going to hoof it to the Parc.


The 37 of us on the bus look hopefully at Ellie, indicating that we, too, would rather be walking…rather than sitting on this hot, stranded bus. And so – we’re off. Yay!


We make our way over to the delightful Parc Guell…and although it is now extremely hot…and extremely crowded…it is still just as whimsical and beautiful as I remember.


Parc Guell is a garden complex that was designed by Gaudi and built between 1900 and 1914.


But enough words…I’m going to let the photos tell the story:














Just beautiful, right?! The only way it could have been more perfect was if the temperature had been about 20 degrees cooler, and there were about 20,000 fewer barbarians (tourists) in the Parc. Really. It was hot...it was crowded... but it was HERE...on the very first full day of our adventure...that we discovered what Too-Tall Taylor was good for.


When you're completely engulfed with thousands of barbarians, and you're getting somewhat lost in the crowd...just look for Too-Tall Taylor. He towered above the crowds, and so became our "flag" - or our "marker", if you will....His height would come in handy as we traveled throughout Europe, so I guess he was needed. Hee hee.


Coming up next: a photo of Brainy Brad's, from our day at Parc Guell....

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The kids' verdict of Parc Guell?


They LOVED it.


If we could have had more time to run and explore and climb and play, they would have been all for it...because hey, no matter how old you are, there's just something fun and magical about a park. And a park designed by Gaudi?


Even better.


Anyway...Brainy Brad had brought his camera along for this tour, so I present to you another one of Brainy Brad's photos...from beautiful Parc Guell:






Sigh. Another pigeon.


You probably think I'm making this up, but sadly...I'm not. I have a feeling that before our cruise is over, we're going to have a Pigeon Picture from Every Port in Europe. (say THAT five times really fast!)




...on to the next (and final) Gaudi stop on our tour...the piece de resistance...the one...the only....La Sagrada Familia.

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We last left our intrepid travelers at Parc Guell…fighting the other hordes of barbarians…and getting ready to venture to the last, but certainly not the least, impressive Gaudi creations: La Sagrada Familia.


Construction began on this massive structure in 1882, and it's still going strong today. Eventually, the tallest tower (still to be built) will reach a height of 560 feet.


So…we board the bus…and begin the drive over to La Sagrada. The kids are curious about it, and have asked us questions, such as, “What’s it like? What do you remember?” And I have to honestly tell them that we never went inside the famous church on our last visit; the line was just way too long, and our time was just way too short. Going inside will be just as much of a surprise for me as it is for them.



Obviously, big giant buses full of barbarians can’t park right outside the church doors, so our bus is forced to park several blocks away…as we follow Ellie behind the giant Orange Umbrella, I remark to Hubby Mike that we, truly, are now officially barbarians…following our colors…off to storm the church.



"Charge! Onward, Barbarians!!!"



It takes awhile for Ellie to work out the logistics at the ticket window; there are 37 of us, after all…and so we have a few minutes to sit back in awe at the imposing and amazing structure ahead of us.






Photos of La Sagrada Familia simply can’t do it justice. They don’t convey the enormity of it…the sheer gaudiness of it all…you simply have to stand there for a few minutes and just…absorb...ponder…wonder…imagine…and finally ask...what the HECK was Gaudi thinking when he designed this?


While waiting for Ellie to return with our admission tickets and earphones, we begin a friendly debate amongst ourselves.


“I love it,” says Brainy Brad. He’s looking at the church in wonder. To him, it represents a pilgrimage of sorts, from someone who has been studying religion for the last few years in college. “It’s everything I dreamed it would be.”


Hubby Mike is squinting his eyes, examining the church in only a way that an engineer can…he’s intrigued by the ongoing construction. Cranes. Exciting. Cool.


“I don't like it, “ I boldly state. I am simplistic by nature, and prefer clean, simple lines. This was too…gaudy. Go figure. “It’s too busy….”


I look to the two younger kids for their opinion…Mickey’s too busy examining all of the ladies' shoes around us to offer much of an opinion on the church…and Too-Tall Taylor? He exclaims, “Wow! That’s ugly!” and then begins looking over the crowd for attractive 19-year old ladies. Sigh.



Every where you looked, you could find a little hidden treasure….



















About this time, Ellie comes up with our tickets and our earphones…she can talk into a microphone, and we’ll all be able to hear her once inside the church. We get ready to step through the doors…and I have to wonder…what will the inside be like? Will it be just as over-the-top as the façade?

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After reluctantly leaving the Cala del Vermut behind (Good-bye, yummy vermouth! Parting is such sweet sorrow....), Jo leads us through the back roads of Barcelona in the burgeoning twilight hours to our next stop, a place for traditional Catalan tapas…the Belmonte.






Once inside, we head upstairs to a quiet little table, where we are quickly served some delicious breads, prosciutto, and other delights.




I wish I'd gotten more photos of the food...but I was too busy...eating the food.



Jo explains the differences between traditional Spanish tapas and Catalan tapas, and because I'm pretty much in a food coma by this point, I can't remember what she said. Darn it. And I didn't bring any paper to take notes - I was there strictly to indulge and enjoy. Which I did. Heartily, believe me.




A view of the main counter from our upstairs hideaway....



A good 40 minutes is spent at this little place, as the plates keep coming...much time is spent laughing and joking with Jo, whom we've all decided should be adopted by our family and whisked away with us back to Kansas City.



We reluctantly get up to leave at some point, profusely thank the owner of the Belmonte, and head out the door...



Finally…the last stop on our tour…the sweet tapas. Once again, Jo leads the way, and we roam and wander and lose ourselves in the back roads of Barcelona. We end up at Bodega La Palma, where we will indulge in some sweet tapas - and I have high expectations, having a bit of a sweet tooth (in case you hadn't figured that out yet by this point).






After swearing a few minutes before that I couldn’t possibly eat one more bite…I find myself digging in and all but licking the plates of these sinfully-delicious desserts. I mean, we can't let these little heavenly pieces of goodness go to waste, can we? That would set a bad precedent. Here, we topped everything off with a glass of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine that balanced the sweetness of the deserts perfectly.




The chocolate was everyone's favorite...yummy!


It’s here that we must say goodbye to Jo…which, after three hours of laughing, sharing, and communing, is rather hard. We’d love to adopt her and take her with us on the rest of our cruise, but we know we must leave her so she can enchant and enthrall the next group of travelers.



She points out the directions so we can make our way back to our apartment, and we head back home...only getting lost twice...to find that:


1. The maintenance man was gone…(Yay!)

2. The bathroom was no longer a “problem” – as all leaks had been fixed, the ceiling tiles were back in place, and it looked as good as new…(Double Yay!)

3. …And the air conditioning was back on and it was nice and cool. (Hip, hip hooray!)



Life was good. We had happy tummies and a cool, quiet apartment, and I could finally, hopefully, slip into blissful slumber and get some rest.



So…The Barcelona Taste…what would I rate it? An A+. I would HIGHLY recommend this tour for anyone who wants to have fun, eat some delicious food, and in all probability, fall in love with Jo. We certainly did. She made it fun, and she engaged the kids...I was so proud of them for stepping outside of their comfort zone (pizza) and sampling new flavors and combinations. Jo had them cast under a tapas spell, and they'll always remember tapas with fond memories.


So...what's next? We have an all-day Gaudi tour of Barcelona...what will we see? Will it go as planned?


Really enjoying your review.


How much walking was involved in this tour please? We've been to Barca several times, but have always been disappointed with the food, however, this looks good. Trouble is, I have dodgy knees, so can't walk for too long.

Thanks :)

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Really enjoying your review.


How much walking was involved in this tour please? We've been to Barca several times, but have always been disappointed with the food, however, this looks good. Trouble is, I have dodgy knees, so can't walk for too long.

Thanks :)


There was definitely some walking...but we took frequent breaks, of course, to indulge...and the walking was all flat...not strenuous at all. I don't think we did more than a mile or two by the time it was all over....altho you could email the company and ask them exactly how much walking is involved to get a more definitive answer! :) Tell Jo the crazy family from Kansas City said hello! :)

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There was definitely some walking...but we took frequent breaks, of course, to indulge...and the walking was all flat...not strenuous at all. I don't think we did more than a mile or two by the time it was all over....altho you could email the company and ask them exactly how much walking is involved to get a more definitive answer! :) Tell Jo the crazy family from Kansas City said hello! :)


Thanks, if we do, I will! :)


We have cruised from Barcelona a few times, but the last tiome was a couple of years ago and this has really made me want to go back again, as it is such a big city, with lots to do, that you could go there time and time again and never see everything.


Looking forward to some more, especially the bit on Santorini, which we have also visited and loved - we cheated a bit, as we got the coach UP (on a tour) and the cable car DOWN, which was a bit scary but not too bad. My son is off to Kefalonia in a few hours time with his girlfriend, there are just so many places to see and not enough time to see them all (or money)!.

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Sitting here at my desk at work laughing like a loon at this thread! Very well done KanCocoa! Watching for more from another local cruiser.


(Funny how many of us around KC get addicted to cruising...:))

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Anxiously awaiting the next post. We did not get inside La Sagrada Familia either. LOVE your pics of Casa Batlo - we didn't go inside because we just did not have enough time. It is beautiful. Your exterior picture is gorgeous - it really shows the colors well.

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We last left our travelers about to enter the famed La Sagrada Familia…wondering if the inside of the church lives up to the hype of the outside…


With admission tickets in hand, earplugs in place, we go through a quick bag search by security, and then we walk through the fabled doors of the La Sagrada Familia.


And….the verdict???




Seriously. I had goose bumps. It TOTALLY blew me away.


For me, it was a surreal experience, as the exterior of the Sagrada is so over-the-top… and as I said before, I like simplicity…clean lines…and that’s what I found inside.


Oh, it still had Gaudi’s signature style of curves, swirls, and natural elements…but it was – for me, anyway – done in a very soothing, calming and spiritual style. Exactly what I would expect from a cathedral.


If you’ve never been inside the La Sagrada Familia…then stop what you’re doing. Right now. And get over there and go inside. Seriously. Buy your tickets early – or wait in line if you have to…but you have GOT to go inside.


That’s all I’m saying on it…once again, I’ll let a few photos “tease” you with what you can find inside:




I couldn't...quite...fit the entire church in...but I tried! And in my attempt to do so, I got some pretty bizarre effects in this photo...including a disembodied head!




The altar...





The staircase is a swirl of whimsy and beauty...





Dancing colors from the stained-glass windows shimmer through the church...








We listened through our earpieces as Ellie, our guide, described what we were seeing...and we then had a bit of free time to explore on our own. The church is so massive inside, and the crowd is controlled, that it never felt crowded at all....



It certainly got the attention of not only Brainy Brad, but ALL of my kids. Too-Tall Taylor was completely blown away by the interior, as was Mickey...while Hubby Mike wandered around with his engineering eye, observing the structural details that so elude the rest of us.



Here's a tip: There is a GREAT museum/exhibit UNDER the Sagrada; it's rather large, but is SO totally worth exploring. Allow enough time; we didn't; and I would love to go back and explore this some more....don't miss it!



After using the (free!) restrooms located at the church, it was time to get back on the bus and head back to the Plaza de Catalunya...our tour had come to an end....


It was about 6:30 pm by this time, and I was getting a bit anxious. Why, you ask? I was supposed to be hosting a big party at 7:00 p.m. for approximately 30 guests...and I was starting to think I was going to be late to my own party.


"Oh, Drama Queen," you ask..."How can you be hosting a party in Barcelona - for 30 guests - when you've only just arrived the day before??!!"


"That's a good question," I'd answer. And I would answer with this:


"There's this cool, little website called Cruise Critic...where you can join a Roll Call and meet up with people all over the world before you EVER sail...perhaps you've heard of it? Anyway...the Roll Call for our June 22nd sailing was...ahem...a bit active. That may have been partly due to moi (I have a tendency to be a bit...verbose. Perhaps you've noticed??!! No? How kind you are!), and our group was anxious to finally meet IRL (In Real Life). I had arranged for us to have a tapas party at a local restaurant at 7:00 pm so that our IRL meeting could finally happen...and here I was...going to be LATE! Yikes!"


Would I be late to my own party? Would anyone from Cruise Critic actually show up? Would the restaurant even know why we were there?


Stay tuned....!!!

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One more post tonight...to finish up our last pre-cruise day in Barcelona.... If I can wrap this up, I'll be able to actually start on the CRUISE tomorrow, which is probably what you're all here for, anyway...you'll want to see the photos of our cabin (the Royal Suite!), photos of our food, photos of our ports, photos of the ship...and I promise - it will all be there! So let's get this pre-cruise business DONE so we can get to all the good stuff!!!!


We left La Sagrada Familia at about 6:30, and fought Barcelona's rush-hour traffic in our efforts to get back to the Plaza de Catalunya. And yes. Barcelona has a rush-hour. Who knew? Not me. But I do now.


I was watching my watch the entire time, as we needed to be at a local restaurant, Taller de Tapas, by 7:00 pm for what was officially known as the "Official Cruise Critic Tapas Party for the June 22nd sailing of the Serenade of the Seas" - but was unofficially known as the "Tapas Party." This party had been arranged by yours truly many months ago, when I realized that so many of us on Cruise Critic (CC) would be arriving in Barcelona a day or two before the cruise...and wouldn't it be nice if we met each other BEFORE we got on the ship? Not to mention, a lot of us were bringing our Klingons (otherwise known as "kids"), so we thought this would be a great opportunity for the Klingons to mingle. While eating food. Win-win.


I had emailed the Taller de Tapas's manager, Kate Preston, a few months ago, via FB...telling her of our wish to have a big dinner/party...and would she be able to handle us? She had quickly emailed back, saying it wouldn't be a problem...they had a large banquet room in the back of the restaurant that could easily accommodate large groups. She then sent me a copy of their group menu, which allowed us to choose the quantity of tapas we would receive...for a certain cost. We chose the $25E per person menu, which included the following:



Round #1 of our tapas would include: toasted coca bread from Vic with tomato and virgin olive oil; Russian salad with marinated tuna shavings; cured farmhouse ham; and roasted Galician ham and smoked paprika canapé


After a breather, they'd bring Round #2 of our tapas, which included: Andalusian style fried squid rings; homemade cured Jabugo ham croquettes; patatas bravas (fried potatoes with aioli and spicy sauce), and sautéed spinach with chickpeas and Galician pancetta.


But hey...we're not done yet...! Nope. Round #3 will bring the following plates: chicken brochette marinated with wine and herbs; traditional roast cuttlefish and noodle paella with aïoli; and sizzling chorizo cooked in cider.


And for dessert? creme Catalana (like a creme brûlée). That's assuming you aren't in a complete food coma by then and can find room for dessert.


And if that's not enough for $25E per person, they're throwing in the following beverages:


White Wine: Almudes (Ribera del Jucar)

Red Wine: Almudes ( Ribera del Jucar)



Yeah. ALL of that for a measly $25E per person. What. A. Deal. :D


So, we arrived at the Plaza de Catalunya, and began doing a fast walk/slow run north on Las Ramblas...up to Taller de Tapas. We're dodging pedestrians, cars, motorbikes, stoplights, etc...and at one point, stumble upon a political rally that was occurring in the street. And let's just say the protesters were NOT happy campers - something about Spain's economy. We deftly gave them a wide berth as we hustled up the street, and we breathlessly arrived at Taller de Tapas a mere 10 minutes late. Whew. Not bad.


And there...the party was in full swing. And it swung. For almost three full hours, the CC'ers wined, dined, meeted, and greeted (are those words??!!)....so much so, that I didn't take A SINGLE PICTURE. Nope. Nada.


Because I was too busy partying. And laughing. And having a great time.


Our waiter, Sergio, worked his tail off that night....poor guy. He didn't speak a word of English, and it was stretching my Spanish capabilities to communicate with him. Here's where Brainy Brad came in handy, as he became our translator with Sergio. I guess at one point, Sergio asked if we were a family reunion...and Brainy Brad replied, "No...actually...none of us have ever met each other before tonight."


Sergio looked around the room in a state of disbelief...with everyone laughing and smiling and chatting...he shook his head, and went on pouring the wine and bringing the plates. And more plates. And more plates after that.


The CC'ers certainly know how to party...that's all I'm saying about THAT. ;)


So...shortly after 10:00 pm...we settled up the bill, and bid everyone a fond adios, promising to meet back up again tomorrow...SailAway Day...the day we had all been waiting for, for months.



My impressions of Taller de Tapas? A GREAT place to host a get-together in Barcelona. The private room was spacious and accommodating; the service was great; the food was plentiful and tasty. Definitely an "A" experience.


So...tomorrow is Embarkation Day....how will it go? Will it be a disaster? Or will it go smoothly? How will we like the Royal Suite? (duh) Stay tuned!


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Thank you, thank you, thank you for a wonderful review!! I was in Barcelona in 2010, and relived it through you. Mind you, it was December, definitely not hot, and not crowded at Le Parc Guell.;) There were still a million people on Las Ramblas, however. Love your review!:)

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I am loving your review! We'll be going on back to back Med cruises next summer, one on the Navigator and one on the Epic and visiting several of the ports you did so I can't wait to hear your port stories! I'll be traveling with my parents and 13 yr old son and 11 yr old daughter. My daughter is also obsessed already about getting shoes as her souvenir as well! Go figure!


I'm looking forward to reading more!

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BillO - you're not the first who's noticed the resemblance between Mickey and Helen Hunt...she's been told that before, so being the curious tweenager that she is, she had to google Helen Hunt to see for herself! :)


She's broken her nose twice now in playground accidents, and the doctor will not do plastic surgery on her until she's at least 15. I like her nose the way it is - I think it gives her character - but she is terribly self-conscious about it and wants to change it. :(




Not to diverge from this wonderful review for too long, make her wait till she can pay for it. ;) Having raised a daughter of my own (now 28 married 2 years) I can understand her feelings, but she is a beauty as she is, as an adult it may become less or more important to her later, there is time. I know return you to this wonderful pictorial feast.

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This is a great trip report... you have me laughing out loud.


I totally understand what you mean about Too Tall Taylor in a crowd... my husband is 6'10"... it totally helps to find things and people!!!


Can't wait to read more!

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I second Sherri's opinion... if you go to Barcelona you MUST go inside La Sagrada Familia. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and on many levels I found it more amazing than St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican.


There is also a small display on the right side entrance (as you face the altar) that describes how Gaudi was inspired by nature to build the way he did. Very interesting.


We did go to the museum underneath and it was very cool- they have many of the smaller scale plaster pieces used in construction.

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One more post tonight...to finish up our last pre-cruise day in Barcelona..


Oh, that's right, the cruise hasn't started yet. I've been fascinated with Barcelona since the Olympics. Great photos!

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