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Nicole721

Hello Vista! A Full PICTORIAL Trip Report of Carnival's Newest Ship

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Hi friends! It's been awhile, hasn't it?

 

I suppose we can file this under better-late-than-never -- it's been a few months since we sailed on the magnificent Carnival Vista. I've been writing about it on my blog on and off since we got off the ship, but I figured it was about time to post it over here as well!

 

If we haven't "met" across this board at some point or another, I'm Nicole, I live in Chicago (which is SUPER cold and snowy right now!) and I've been cruising with my family since I was a teenager. Now that my sister and I are all grown up, we still try to take family cruises twice a year. I have unlimited PTO days at work. My sister, Stephanie, does not. Part of the reason we still enjoy cruising so much is that it allows us to see so many places in a week or two weeks. It may be exhausting to visit eight ports in ten days, but it's kind of exhilarating, too, isn't it?

 

Last year, we did our first Mediterranean cruise onboard the Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas and we were absolutely hooked, so when Carnival announced the Vista would be doing her maiden voyages through the Mediterranean ports, we didn't hesitate to book a ten-day cruise for our Mom's birthday.

 

((Spoiler alert: we had so much fun...again...that we followed up by booking another Europe cruise through the Baltics for 2017. And you can bet we'll be on the Horizon when she sets sail in 2018!))

 

I've got a few thousand pictures and about 130 pages of content to share here. I hope some of you will still find it helpful and follow along. If you have any questions along the way, let me know -- I'm happy to try to help! :) If you want to skip ahead, full posts are on my blog, but I hope you'll still drop me a note over here!

 

And with that...away we go!

 

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Days 1 + 2: Chicago to Charlotte to Barcelona

 

How did we get here?

 

I feel like that’s been the mantra running through my head for the past two weeks, as I’ve prepared for a big, splashy Europe trip that somehow feels like an extension of last year’s trip (…which somehow feels like yesterday and not an entire YEAR ago!).

 

Through every motion of this trip, planning it, packing for it, right up through actually leaving on it, I kept wondering to myself how did we get here? How did this come up so fast…again?

 

Clearly these are questions I know the answer to: we decided pretty soon after our last Europe cruise ended that we had to repeat again this year because the trip had exceeded all of our expectations and we all felt like there was so much left to discover in the Mediterranean ports. We also all had $500 vouchers from American Airlines as an apology for Flightgate 2015 (when they had delayed our flight more than six hours for issues on the aircraft they were aware of when the aircraft had come in the day before, causing us to miss our connecting flight and lose nearly a full day in Barcelona), which offset a good chunk of the largest associated cost of a trip like this.

 

We knew early on that trying to replicate our last European adventure wasn’t the right path to pave – the last trip was so special and wonderful and trying to recreate it would only lead to disappointment at some turn. And, there’s a world of everything we’d be missing out on if we only let ourselves experience the same things we did the first time around. So every step, as we planned, we made a conscious decision to change enough to keep this adventure exciting and fresh, while allowing ourselves to revisit some of our favorite places and experiences.

 

The original plan was to do another cruise on Royal Caribbean, another 12 day itinerary to many of the same ports with a couple of new ones sprinkled in. But when the opportunity arose to travel on the so-new-it-still-wasn’t-even-built-yet Carnival Vista, we jumped on it. Not the first cruise – those usually have some kinks that need to be ironed out – but the second. And right before we booked, a Havana Cabana cabin for three opened up. Just one. Like some kind of meant-to-be magic.

 

Most of the ports of call on this cruise would be repeats – Livorno (we docked at La Spezia last time, but they both serve the same area), Rome, Naples, Athens – but we had many new ones to discover, too, in Provence, Rhodes, Crete and Izmir. Izmir got scratched for a sea day, but we were okay with that – we’d docked in Kusadasi and did the whole Ephesus thing last year.

 

Slowly, the pieces fell into place and time passed by, as it always seems to, slowly and then all too quickly. It was like one day, we’d just entered single digit weeks in our countdown and then in the snap of fingers and the blink of an eye, our departure date was upon us.

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When I woke up the morning of our departure last year, it was clear blue skies with fluffy clouds outside my condo windows. I remember thinking that it was the perfect day to go on an adventure. It all went to hell from there (just for that day, anyways). So when I woke up on the morning of our departure this year to grey fog so thick I couldn’t see anything beyond my building, I was completely unfazed by it. If a beautiful day was the beginning of a day holding a series of unfortunate events, maybe the antithesis in a gloomy day would flip that on its side, too.

 

((Or, maybe, the weather is a sign of nothing and I’m just entirely too superstitious – potential, most likely scenario here))

 

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I went in for a half day of work, I ran around like crazy trying to wrap up loose ends and prepare my team for my 19-day absence and then, I headed to O’Hare to meet up with Mom and Stephanie in the swankiest, poshest way possible: the Blue Line.

 

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The day before, I’d put up a status on my Facebook and all it said was “Holy s***, you guys. I’m going to Europe tomorrow.” And that was really how I felt. I didn’t have a lot of time to anticipate this trip. Work had kept me crazy busy since October and I was still catching up on everything else. So when I got to the airport, I still couldn’t quite grasp that intense rush of anticipation that makes big trips like these so exciting. I couldn’t even grasp how it was possible this was already happening.

 

I said a silent prayer as my suitcase was loaded onto the scale – Stephanie had to help me repack twice because I couldn’t get my suitcase under 60 pounds – and I let out an audible whoop of celebration when the scale flashed with 48.4. Victory.

 

My elite status with American gets me Priority Access (which also went onto Mom and Stephanie when I booked their tickets), and Mom just somehow always gets TSA Pre-Check, which always comes onto us when we travel on the same itinerary. Unfortunately, the double dip combo of Priority and TSA Pre-Check did nothing for us this time, as O’Hare was the busiest I’ve seen it in years (on a random, Wednesday afternoon, no less!) and the Pre-Check line was hundreds of people deep, extending in lines that reached the check in counters.

 

 

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In the first moment of pure divine intervention for this trip, as we reached the actual queue, they opened up a new line, and we were shifted over to a new line with no wait instead of the deep queue that would have taken us another 30 minutes to get through.

 

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We only had an hour to burn before our flight, so we grabbed some lunch to go at Wolfgang Puck Express (because no pre-flight lunch is complete without my Chicken Chinois salad, you know) and some chocolate bars at Vosges before heading to our terminal to wait for our flight to Charlotte.

 

There are no direct flights from Chicago to Barcelona. The options on American (our preferred airline) are to either fly to London and connect via British Airways, fly to Madrid on Iberia and connect there or fly to one of the US East Coast hubs and connect there. We ended up booking a flight connecting in Charlotte, but the only thing that had me biting my nails was that our layover was only two hours. If, for whatever reason, our flight was delayed, there was a good chance we’d miss our connecting flight, and getting to Barcelona from Charlotte would be much more difficult after a missed flight than getting there from London.

 

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Thankfully, our flight was not only on time, but completely uneventful. We’d scored a row of seats that had no row in front of it on a rebranded US Airways Airbus, and even though the pilot had said to expect some chop in the air (to the point where the flight attendants would not serve hot beverages during the in flight service), we had a relatively smooth flight and even landed a few minutes early.

 

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I love airports. I don’t find many people who share the same sentiment – travel can be stressful and that kind of stress can often bring out the worst in people – but to me, being in an airport represents some kind of new adventure or experience to be had. And airports serve as a reminder to me that the world is bigger than me and my perspective – there’s always people going somewhere. Lots of them. Even when you don’t understand it (like when an early afternoon flight to Charlotte on a Wednesday was sold out in all cabins before the upgrade window even hits). I’ve never flown through Charlotte before, and I have to say, the airport was absolutely gorgeous. Lots of open space, greenery, places to sit and relax and observe. It felt very peaceful amongst all of the chaos (Charlotte is one of American’s largest US hubs).

 

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With only an hour or so to spare, I decided I had to do experience something Carolinas – so Stephanie and I went halfsies on some Carolina BBQ. And even though it was airport BBQ? It was damn good.

 

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When we got to our gate, we found ourselves spread out on the upgrade list (I was at 3, Stephanie was at 6, Mom was at 7 – we’d upgraded our flight home using some miles we’d inherited from our grandma, but mileage awards weren’t available for the flight out so we were placed on upgrade standby), but it didn’t matter much – the business class cabin was sold out and no one on the upgrade standby would be bumped up. But that was okay with me – Stephanie had plenty of ideas on ways we could keep occupied on this flight.

 

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And while we were at the gate, we got an email from Carnival saying our itinerary had changed once again: Izmir had been dropped for a sea day a few weeks ago, and now that sea day was being dropped for Kusadasi. So, plus, we were going to Turkey after all, minus, we were losing a sea day, but double plus, stopping in a non-EU country meant we wouldn’t have to deal with VAT tax being added onto all onboard purchases.

 

Boarding started soon after and was pretty quick and efficient. Even though we were in regular economy seats for this eight hour flight, we found them very comfortable. Stephanie and I are both vertically challenged (I’m the taller of the two of us at just over 5’3), so leg room is almost never a problem. The leather seats were well-cushioned and had a seatback entertainment unit with dozens of free movies and TV shows to watch (including some great newer releases – Mockingjay Part 2, Joy, Sisters – we actually worried there was too much we wanted to watch that we wouldn’t get enough sleep on the flight!). And the inflight crew was fantastic. Between all of that and the fact that our flight was actually on time and scheduled to arrive early, we had all the makings of a great start to this trip.

 

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Stephanie and I settled in with our movies (Mom was across the aisle and immersed with a chatty group of fellow travelers, many of which were also heading out on the Vista!) and about an hour into the flight, dinner service rolled out. On international flights departing the US in the evening, American serves a hot meal service with complimentary wine and beer in economy. Our choices were between chicken with rice and pasta with vegetables. We tried both options across the three of us and neither were great, but Stephanie and I always have fun taking these international meals and eating them in courses to class them up a couple of notches. The flight attendants made their rounds up and down the aisles to top off everyone’s wine glasses throughout the service and then turned down the cabin lights once meal service had finished.

 

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I get really amped up on flights – there’s a part of me that’s always terrified and that always results in a little extra adrenaline, and there’s a part of me that also loves flying and marveling down at the world below me. But I also knew that in order to conquer the jet lag that would come with flying into a time zone seven hours ahead of home, I needed to sleep on this flight to reset my clock. So the night before, I deliberately stayed up super late and only really got three hours of sleep, knowing that between that and the motion of the plane, I’d get drowsy and hopefully get some sleep that way. But sleeping sitting up is never really comfortable for me and despite my best efforts, I dozed on and off for a couple of hours. Stephanie was repeatedly getting kicked in the arm by the barefooted 12-year-old sitting behind her (who literally kept putting his feet on her arm and driving her insane) and didn’t get much sleep either. We eventually both gave up – she put on Mockingjay and I watched Joy. At some point, she looked out the window and said she saw a sky full of stars – more than she’s ever seen before. And being awake had one fringe benefit: we both got to see the gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean as we jetted towards Spain.

 

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A continental breakfast was served as we approached our destination and as the boxes were cleared away and we began our descent, the pilot came over the speaker to let everyone know that if we’d look out to the left , we’d have a lovely view of Montserrat out the window.

 

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We landed about 45 minutes ahead of schedule and deplaned via staircase and onto a shuttle instead of via a ramp into the terminal. I’ve never done the whole staircase thing so I thought it was kind of fun. Waiting a half hour for all of the shuttles to fill and drive us over to customs? Not so much fun.

 

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Thankfully, it only took about 15 minutes to get through customs, our bags made it to Barcelona and found their way to us. Before we left the airport, though, we stopped at the ATM’s just outside of arrivals. There’s a currency exchange by baggage claim, but the best way we’ve found to get Euros is just to withdraw from the ATM. Even with the bank fees, the exchange comes out more favorable this way.

 

The taxi line is one level down from arrivals at BCN, and we were quickly led into a regular cab that miraculously fit all of our luggage. The driver spoke no English, but I speak decent Spanish, so we didn’t face any language barriers. One thing that was super helpful was printing out our hotel name and address so we could show him instead of trying to communicate it.

 

Last year, we stayed at the Hotel Miramar and loved it. This year, it was sold out with the Grand Prix starting on Friday, but we were able to snag a triple room at the Olivia Balmes, a hotel consistently listed towards the top on the list of hotels in Barcelona on Trip Advisor. The Olivia Balmes is a small boutique hotel in Eixample, the main shopping district in Barcelona. The cab ride was about a half hour (with heavy traffic in the city) and €35.

 

We arrived just after noon and though check-in wasn’t until 3:00 pm, the wonderful staff at the hotel worked to get our room ready as soon as possible, leading us to the bar for a round of welcome drinks (whatever we wanted – they said they had a wonderful sangria today so we went with that) and setting us up with wifi while they worked on processing our passports and credit card (for incidentals) and getting our room ready. We only waited a half hour or so before they brought us our paperwork, our passports and our room keys, telling us they had our luggage brought up to the room already. We really can’t say enough good things about the service at the Olivia Balmes.

 

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We took an hour to get the plane ick off of us and make ourselves look halfway decent before we headed out for brunch. I’d found a restaurant on Instagram (my favorite way of finding new places to dine, by the way) called Brunch & Cake. The food looked artful and all kinds of amazing, it had great reviews, and bonus, was within walking distance of our hotel. The walk should have only taken ten minutes or so, but we kept getting lost and it took about double that. But Barcelona is a stunningly gorgeous city, with unique building facades and manicured treescapes, and getting lost is never a particularly bad thing here.

 

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The forecast had been bouncing back and fourth between rain and sun in the days leading up to our trip, and I was absolutely elated when we landed to a bright, sunny day. A small rain shower fell while we were waiting for our table, but by the time we were seated, it was beautiful and sunny again.

 

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The food at Brunch & Cake is a contemporary, healthy spin on brunch favorites. Everything we tried was unique and beautifully presented. It was a perfect first-meal-in-Barcelona meal.

 

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One of the things that always boggles my mind about Europe is how inexpensive good food can be. Our meal of innovative brunch fare at Brunch and Cake came out to just over €35 for the three of us.

 

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We started planning out the rest of our day over our lattes, and at this point, it was clear that Stephanie wasn’t coping with the jetlag as well as Mom and I were. I was tired, absolutely, but I knew the only way it would get better would be to let my body readjust to the time by staying awake during the day. Stephanie felt like she was going to keel over if she kept herself awake any longer, so we walked her back to the hotel after brunch. We found a supermarket on the way back and stopped in to buy some last minute items for the trip, and also found ourselves with a few Kinder Eggs, which we only really bought because they’re contraband in the US. Seriously. If Customs finds them on you when you re-enter the US, you can be fined up to $2,500 per egg. Needless to say, we saw them in nearly every country we visited, and bought them frequently over the course of our trip because we were so intrigued by the fact that we weren’t supposed to have them at home.

 

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With only a day and a half in Barcelona before our cruise and so much we wanted to see, Mom and I didn’t waste any time. While Stephanie napped at the hotel, we decided to walk to Las Ramblas to visit La Boqueria.

 

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As we walked down Ramblas, which is always super busy and very crowded, I had Mom keep close to me since I had my big camera – pickpocketing and petty theft is a very real issue in Barcelona, particularly on the busy Ramblas corridor. Staying alert and keeping on top of your belongings is key to not falling victim to these kinds of crimes.

 

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La Boqueria is a few blocks down Las Ramblas, an open air food market, where vendors hock everything from exotic fruit to empanadas to freshly butchered meats and colorful fruit juices. It’s a fun place to just wander around and see what you find and that’s exactly what we did. We looked at all the different meats and cheeses and produce that were laid out. We grabbed churros, gelato and espresso at a small sidewalk café along the outer perimeter. We took dozens of pictures. La Boqueria is a must visit for anyone with any kind of culinary appreciation.

 

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We made a quick stop at Carrefour as we left Ramblas to walk back to the hotel, stopping in to buy a Coke for Stephanie and a box of pastries to have for breakfast the next two mornings. It always amazes me how cheap quality groceries and food are in Barcelona. A box of freshly made pain au chocolats? Two Euro. Seriously.

 

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The walk back to the hotel took about a half hour. It wasn’t far, but it wasn’t that close, either. But we were in Spain on a gorgeous spring day, and that was better experienced walking through it than driving past it.

 

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Stephanie was just waking up when we got back to the hotel, and Mom was starting to fade. We headed upstairs to relax on the rooftop deck and go over our options for dinner.

 

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None of us wanted anything super formal because it had already been a long day. Stephanie and I were actually going to head to a nearby McDonald’s just to bring back something quick (which I suppose defeats my nothing-I-have-at-home-in-Chicago rule, but international McDonald’s have completely different menus and we were exhausted so only judge us a little bit), but we passed a tapas restaurant, Balmes/Rosselló while we were walking that just looked too good to pass up. Also authentic Spanish tapas IN Spain >>>>>> Quarter Pounders any day of the week.

 

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The menu offered tapas, salads, meats and pizzas and everything looked amazing. We ordered a few tapas and a pizza to share, along with a carafe of champagne sangria and a bottle of water. When a full pitcher of some of the best sangria I’ve ever had appeared at our table, we just both marveled at something we’ve discussed before about European dining: a 16 oz bottle of water was €2 and gave us two glasses of water. The pitcher of champagne sangria served each of us six or seven glasses of sangria, and at €11, the price per serving meant the champagne sangria was literally cheaper than water. I love you, Europe.

 

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The restaurant was quiet – just a few other tables – but we really loved the décor and vibe of the restaurant. Our team of servers were incredibly attentive and the food was oh-my-god levels of good.

 

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I should probably mention that after a month of strict Keto and no carbs leading up to this trip, my tolerance for boozy stuffs was at a decade spanning low. The champagne hit me all at once and by the time we left the restaurant to go pick up a quick dinner for Mom, I was clinging to Stephanie and singing the theme song to Laverne and Shirley as we strolled through Eixample.

 

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We took it easy for the rest of the night, watching some CSNBC (the only English channel on the television), making plans and reading as many Vista reviews as we could find before we all gave in to the sleep we’d spent the day fighting off.

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Day 3: Barcelona and Montserrat

 

For all of the boasting I did the day before about conquering jetlag, I was still dealing with a few minor side effects.

 

I wasn’t feeling quite the obvious punch Stephanie was. I just…wasn’t able to sleep. So the 7:30 am wakeup that came ahead of our day tour on our second day in Barcelona was rough because I couldn’t fall asleep until well past 3:30 am. I already knew this wasn’t going to be a restful vacation, but I was hoping to get some rest before we boarded the Vista.

 

But this wouldn’t be the day for it – we had a tour booked to visit Montserrat and Cava Country through Barcelona Day Tours that was going to pick us up at 9:00 am sharp.

 

We used Barcelona Day Tours on our first trip to Barcelona last year, based on the thousands of glowing reviews for the company posted online and our experience with them had validated the reviews – the company is incredibly professional, the tour guides are fantastic and the vehicles are well-maintained and clean. Last year, we did a tour that visited Montserrat in the morning and did a Barcelona city tour in the afternoon. This year, in keeping with the idea of allowing ourselves to repeat some enjoyable experiences as we mix in some new ones, we booked a tour to Montserrat and Cava Country. Stephanie contacted them through their site and the cost of the tour settled out at €89 per person.

 

Our hotel was the first on the pickup route, and our driver and guide drove up promptly at 9:00 am. Our guide, Lisa, was warm and welcoming and gave us a bit of a tour of the Eixample as we continued on the pickup route. Our full group was a total of eight people, and it was the perfect size for this kind of tour.

 

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Once everyone had been picked up, we began the drive to Montserrat. Montserrat is a mountain in the Catalan pre-coastal mountain range. The mountain is jagged and serrated, and the name Montserrat literally means saw mountain in Catalan. The history of the area dates back to 888 A.D., and the monastery that famously sits nestled in the mountains dates all the way back to the year 1025. Christopher Columbus was quite fond of this mountain range, too – so much so, he named an island in the Caribbean after it. You can get up to Montserrat a few ways – there’s a daily bus route that leaves from the Plaça de la Universitat, you can take a train and transfer to either the cable car or the funicular, or you can drive – it’s about an hour’s drive from Barcelona through the Catalan countryside.

 

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As we neared Montserrat, Lisa had the driver pull over so we could see the area we’d be visiting from below. The rest of the drive up was pretty steep, but watching the clouds cast shadows on the rolling hillside below from that high up was a stunning site to see. Lisa began telling us about our options for our two and a half hours in Montserrat – we could hike out to the cross, we could take the funicular down to the bottom of the mountain, we could attend services or visit the Black Madonna, we could shop and dine, we had plenty of possibilities.

 

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The minute I stepped foot off the van, I took a deep breath and just felt immediate peace. There was something about Montserrat the first time we visited that brought me pure gratitude and peace. Maybe it lies in being up so high, looking out at mountains so vast and green and beautiful that was created by nature. Or maybe it’s rooted in good memories. Either way, if the day before, I couldn’t understand how I had gotten anywhere near here, today, I had to keep reminding myself that this was real and I was here.

 

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We were the only people in our group that had ever visited Montserrat before, so we tagged along as Lisa walked everyone else in our group through the area and regaled them with the legend of the Black Madonna and walked everyone through the market so we could try the locally produced cheeses and goods that the vendors were offering. And just like last year, these vendors were giving out samples to everyone and anyone, and not a single one of them pressured anyone for a sale. Most of them were offering up cheeses and honey and produce from their family farms and just wanted to share the fruits of their work (and we were happy to enjoy it because everything was so fresh and delicious).

 

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And even though we’d visited before, we were seeing and learning all kinds of new things. Like the room where people come and leave offerings for the spirit of the Black Madonna. We never saw that before!

 

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Lisa set us free after walking us through the basilica during services and we just kind of hung around the courtyard for a bit, wandering into the Ave Maria Path (where people go to light candles as a prayer to the Virgin Mary) and waiting for services to end so we could go back into the basilica to take pictures. If you’re visiting Montserrat and would like to light a candle, they have a box where you can drop a couple of Euros and grab a candle to light.

 

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Noise and photography are forbidden during services, but thankfully, we didn’t have to wait long for them to let out so that we could take pictures inside and explore the basilica. We didn’t get to go inside the basilica on our last trip, so we made it a point to see it this time. The basilica was built in the Gothic style Barcelona is known for, and what makes it so wonderfully unique is how it also merges Catalan architecture with Renaissance shapes. Stained glass windows adorn the outer walls and I really enjoyed taking my time admiring each one, but the centerpiece of the basilica is the sculpture of the Black Madonna.

 

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The Black Madonna has quite the lore behind her. Visitors from around the world have been coming to Montserrat since the 12th century to visit the Black Madonna, touch her hand and pray for miracles. The line to go up to her gilded altar wrapped around the courtyard before it even opened for visits, so we settled for observing the statue from the basilica.

 

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Afterwards, we snapped a few more pictures up by the basilica before heading back down to grab a cappuccino at a nearby café and enjoy the brisk spring air.

 

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We did a little bit of shopping after our espresso run, stopping first into the big shop they have set up with all kinds of Montserrat-logo’ed items, gourmet goods, housewares and even jewelry and then back through the market to take another look at what was available at each table.

 

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Lisa had mentioned earlier that there wouldn’t be any food served at our cava tasting, so we popped into a cafeteria to grab some sandwiches and desserts. It’s amazing how something as simple as baguette rubbed with tomato and filled with sliced chorizo can be so delicious.

 

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We didn’t have much time before we had to head to the meeting spot, so Mom went ahead to the spot while Stephanie and I climbed down a bit to a small viewing area where you can sit on the ledge and take in the mountain range. Lisa had mentioned earlier that the reason they didn’t build higher walls on these areas was because there was clearly a big drop off below them and people should be able to take responsibility for themselves and not put themselves in danger of falling off. So Stephanie and I took a couple of pictures before she headed up, leaving me to sit and contemplate the beauty ahead of me…while dangling over the edge. Sorry, Mom.

 

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I didn’t stay too long – probably just a few minutes – but it was just enough to finally get some peace. That’s what I love about Montserrat. It’s so beautiful and so…simple. It’s not ornate, it’s not grandiose, it’s just a monastery nestled in some mountains. But somehow in it’s simplicity, it’s breathtakingly stunning. My life had been so complicated and stressful in the months leading up to this trip and looking out at the mountains brought me all of the peace I needed.

 

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The group reconvened at 1:20 pm and started our drive out to the Cava region of Spain and it reminded me very much of the drive to Napa from San Francisco – at least until we drove past a man sitting up in the middle of the road, looking into our van as if he was waiting for us to hit him. We didn’t, thankfully, and our driver got right on the phone with emergency services to report the situation. I don’t know if anything came of it, if the man was struck by another driver who wasn’t paying as much attention or if the police got there in time, but it definitely shook everyone a little bit.

 

Once the tension from that moment started to drop, Lisa began to tell us about the estate we’d be visiting, telling us how many bottles of Cava are produced in this region a year (42 million!), what the difference is between Cava and sparkling wine (double fermentation) and, most importantly, letting us know that tasting was a big component of this next part of the tour!

 

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We pulled up to Artcava and were greeted warmly by Ramon, who immediately began a tour of the production area and estate. The estate has been in that spot for over a thousand years and has an olive tree just out the back of the same age. Isn’t that crazy?

 

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Ramon walked us through the estate, room by room, telling us what we could learn about the family who lived there by the characteristics the house took on from them.

 

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The next part of the tour led us down into the cellars, where Ramon showed us how the fermentation process takes place and walked us through how the process results in the different varieties of cava.

 

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Did you know that in order to remove the yeast that ferments the cava from the bottle, they freeze the very very top of the bottle (upside down) at -19 degrees, which allows them to solidify it and remove it without leaving residue in the cava? Ramon did a demonstration, walking us all the way through the process from the yeast removal to when the bottles are completed. It was fascinating to see how much work goes into creating this bubbly treat.

 

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Our tour concluded with a tasting session, which included three full-sized pours of Artcava’s cava. Ramon walked us through the tasting notes and, as someone who has done her fair share of wine tastings before, I found this one to be absolutely engaging. I have nothing but good things to say about the entire tour.

 

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I think everyone on the tour ended up purchasing a bottle or three before we hopped back into the van and began our drive back to Barcelona. The drive from Montserrat/the Cava region is usually around 45 minutes, but we were in some pretty heavy traffic. We had 6:15 pm tickets to the Sagrada Familia and I was starting to worry we’d be late for our entrance. Thankfully, the traffic minimized as we entered the city. It started to rain a bit as we began drop offs, but as ours was last, the rain let up by the time we even got out of the van. We said our goodbyes to Lisa and thanked her not only for a wonderful tour, but for the list of recommendations she wrote out for us based on where we were staying.

 

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We ran up into the room to grab our raincoats just in case and debated taking a cab (Mom and Stephanie’s choice) vs taking the Metro (my choice). We couldn’t figure out where to catch this particular Metro line, so they won. A ride to the Sagrada Familia was about 15 minutes and cost just under 7 Euro with a cab driver who apparently grew up with Pau Gasol, a player on the Chicago Bulls. Small world, huh?

 

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Barcelona is a city rich in art and architecture, and no one name is more synonymous with the city than Antoni Gaudí. His modern, art noveau inspired influence can be felt throughout the city, and his pièce de résistance is the Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic church so large and designed so intricately, it still isn’t complete – construction began in 1882 and they anticipate it will finally be completed in 2026 for the 100 year anniversary of Gaudí’s death.

 

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The exterior of the Sagrada Familia is intricate and imposing (much like Parc Guell, Casa Milà and Gaudí’s other works). You could stare at it for hours and still not be able to fully take notice of everything. There are three facades (one to represent each of the three major events crucial to Christ’s existence): Birth (the Nativity façade to the East), Death and Resurrection (the Passion façade to the West) and Future Glory (the Glory façade to the south – the one façade that has yet to be completed). Along with the facades are 18 spires (to represent Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, the twelve Apostles and the four Evangelists). When the spires are complete, the Sagrada Familia will become the tallest church in the world.

 

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We only got to experience the Sagrada Familia from the outside last time, and seeing it from the inside was towards the top of my Barcelona must do’s list. Stephanie bought us advanced tickets online when she was resting the day before when Mom and I were at the Boqueria and we literally walked right in through the advanced sales line.

 

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My jaw was at my knees the minute we walked into the church. I knew what was waiting for me inside. I’ve seen dozens of pictures. But nothing could prepare me for the overwhelming masterpiece that lays inside in the detailed carvings, the high, vaulted ceilings and the richly stained glass that cast shadows in every hue of the rainbow across the entire space. Every wall I looked at, every small detail I caught, each was more beautiful that the last. Pictures don’t even do it justice.

 

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We wandered around for about an hour before leaving the church and picking up a couple of last minute souvenirs down the block. The Sagrada Familia is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Barcelona, so there are dozens of souvenir shops within a one block radius on all sides of the structure.

 

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Somehow, I convinced Stephanie and Mom to take the Metro back to the hotel because it was a straight shot up two stops and it was only €2.15. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I found the Barcelona Metro to be super easy to navigate, the stations and trains clean and modern. It took us less than ten minutes to get from the Sagrada Familia back to Eixample.

 

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It started to chill outside and we couldn’t figure out what we wanted for dinner, so we wandered around Rambla Catalunya (there are many ramblas in Barcelona – it just means a place a river has run through and Las Ramblas is just the most famous one) before settling on Boldu, a small bakery Stephanie had found in her research. We dined on sandwiches and treated ourselves to donuts for dessert.

 

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The sunset in Barcelona wasn’t hitting until after nine, so we still had some bits of daylight left as we headed back to the hotel to get ready for the next day, which was a pretty big day for us: we’d finally be boarding the Carnival Vista!

 

 

Back later tonight with more!

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