Palma de Mallorca – Sacred and Secular

The old city of Palma de Mallorca is dominated by the 13th century Cathedral. You could not miss it as we sailed into the harbor.

The shuttle bus took us from the port right over to the Cathedral. We decided to make it our first stop.

The cathedral was founded in 1229 on the site of a former mosque. Due to some unfortunate architectural decisions it took until the end of the 16th century to get it finished. Even after that there have been numerous earthquakes and fires which have necessitated rebuilding and redecorating.

It was a breezy day on the sea shore as can be seen by the fountain.

This metal tree inside the entrance depicts the saints and blessed of Mallorca including some martyrs from the Spanish Civil War of 1936.

The nave is pretty impressive. This is one of the tallest Gothic churches in the world.

The canopy of the main altar was designed by Antoni Gaudi around 1910.

This side chapel of the Holy Eucharist was decorated in 2007 by Mallorcan artist Miquel Barcelo. It is definitely something that takes getting used to. It’s a Terra Cotta cave with a marine theme and a cascade of skulls at the side. Rather spooky if you ask me.

Contrast the work of Barcelo with this Renaissance altar of Corpus Christi.

This rose window is magnificent – one of the largest in the world.

In the cloister is a statue of  St. Ramon Llull – 13th century monk, theologian, writer, mathematician, martyr. Quite a guy.

We got a nice view of the harbor and the Silhouette from the steps of the Cathedral.

We left the Cathedral and walked up past the Palace. It was the original residence of Jaime the Conqueror who took Mallorca back from the Moors in 1229.

This street is one of the major shopping areas. It got busy later on.

Eventually we found ourselves on La Rambla – Mallorca edition. Just as nice as the street in Barcelona.

Anybody fancy a carriage ride?

Back near the Palace we walked through the King’s Garden area.

A delightful way to go back to the shuttle pickup.

Back on the ship we were ready for a couple of sea days after 3 days in Rome and 4 ports in a row. We really enjoyed our visit to Palma – sacred and secular both were great.







La Rambla Ramblin’

Another sunny day dawned as we docked in Barcelona under the familiar outlines of the Castell de Montjuic.

Over behind the auto carrier ship we could see the city itself.

The shuttle took us over near the Columbus monument at the base of La Rambla. We didn’t have major plans, just a walkabout and some souvenir shopping. Teddy needed a new Messi jersey from FC Barcelona as he had outgrown his old one. Shortly after we started up La Rambla we found a shop which had everything we wanted – jersey for Teddy, FCB caps for all the kids, even something for Teddy’s dad. Sadly Sarah was left out of the football wardrobe.

We carried on up to Placa Catalunya. The pigeons are still there; too bad we didn’t have Teddy available to chase them as he did in 2012.

We then headed up Passeig de Gracia and were soon in Gaudi territory. Here’s our favorite house – Casa Battlo. No scaffolding here now as there was the last time we were in Barcelona.

And just a bit further on is La Pedrera. At this point we turned off Passeig de Gracia and walked over to

my favorite street in Barcelona – Rambla de Catalunya. It’s just as nice as La Rambla with about 1/10 the number of ramblers. We followed it back to Placa Catalunya.

Down La Rambla again, then we headed into the Barri Gotic to see the cathedral.

It’s looking good – in a 14th century sort of way. No scaffolding here any more (yay!)

And yes, there was another holy door to pass through.

Inside it was hushed and peaceful. We didn’t go over to the cloister to see the geese this time.

On the way back to the shuttle point we passed the familiar Columbus monument at the base of La Rambla. Here our Barcelona ramble came to an end.

Back on the ship we spotted one of the many ro-ro ferries that run between Genoa and Barcelona. Barca is quite the Italian playground, as we found out on our previous trips here.

That was it for Barcelona – we always enjoy coming here (if only for a day.)


Lovely La Seyne sur Mer

We docked in the port of Toulon on the morning of November 7. The cold front had passed through the area, and it was a cool but bright morning.

Since we had had a busy day in Florence. we opted for a quieter one today. The ship had docked on the opposite side of the harbor from Toulon and although there were options to take a ferry to the city itself, we decided to stay on the shore where we docked and to visit the smaller village of La Seyne sur Mer (within easy walking distance of the ship.)

Once outside the secure port area we got our first full view of the ship since we embarked in Civitavecchia.

Our first impression of La Seyne wasn’t too favorable. We walked past these grotty factory buildings which I suspect were part of the old shipbuilding yard that closed in the 1980s. There were signs indicating that this area was going to be redeveloped. I would anticipate that these buildings will be demolished and you won’t recognize the area in five years’ time. The buildings don’t look like they have much architectural significance but you never know.

Things improved markedly once we passed the old factory buildings. We saw a nice park and a casino built on the former shipyard grounds. Then we approached this interesting structure – La Seyne’s version of the Eiffel Tower. What it actually turned out to be was a former railway bridge (built 1916-1920) that enabled steel and other material to be brought over to the shipyard from the other side of the harbor. It was closed in the mid 1980s, locked in its upright position , and turned into a 40 meter high observation tower.

Admission was free, we rode the elevator to the top and came down on a steel staircase.

We got a nice view of La Seyne from the top.

And an even nicer view of Toulon across the bay.

The bridge machinery building is now glassed in and you can see all the cranks and gears needed to raise and lower the structure back when it was in service.

After leaving the bridge/tower we went into the village to immerse ourselves in the culture of Provence. La Seyne has lots of little narrow streets like this one.

Maria was looking to get a sewing kit and some thread to do some clothing repairs. La Seyne is more of a real life village than a tourist area so we found a “2 Euro” store just opposite this cafe which had everything she needed.

Next we walked up to the village church which has the entirely appropriate name (for our circumstances) of Notre Dame de Bon Voyage.

The interior was lovely in its simplicity – quite a change from the Baroque architecture in Rome.

There was a nice little square outside the church.

And the church tower gleamed in the late autumn sunshine.

We walked down past the local cafe. A few locals were hanging out enjoying the fine weather.

And Maria discovered the Public Library (which unfortunately was closed.)

We finished our tour of La Seyne and on the way back we passed the former main entrance to the La Seyne shipyard. It now serves as the entrance to the casino, and inside the gate is a War Memorial with the names of the shipyard workers who died in World War I.

La Seyne shipyard was in operation for more than 150 years and built ocean liners, battleships for the French navy, and lots of cargo vessels. A couple of yacht builders remain but otherwise it’s all gone now.

A final view of the “tower” from Parc de la Navale.

Toulon is still a naval base and service port, so once back on the ship we could see lots of French navy vessels anchored not far away. This one looks like some sort of marine assault ship.

A last look back at Toulon in the afternoon sunshine as we prepare to sail away. It was a quiet day here, but a most interesting and enjoyable one.




Three Hours in Florence

It was a bumpy first night on the Mediterranean and as the ship pulled into La Spezia, the day dawned rather gloomy and damp. Not a good omen.

But no matter. We had booked a three hour “Florence on Your Own” shore excursion so we grabbed the umbrellas and headed out to join our tour.

The ride to Florence took about 90 minutes. The countryside looked lush and green and our guide informed us that they had had a lot of rain in Northern Italy in October.

The weather wasn’t too bad when we made our pit stop about halfway there. Maybe things would be OK after all.

Our bus had facilities for folks in wheelchairs, so we were able to get in and park closer to the center of Florence than usual. We ended up near Santa Croce, and walked down to the Uffizi Palace.

We would have liked to go into the Uffizi Gallery but unfortunately this was a free admission day in the city museums. They were lined up wall to wall at the Uffizi and we couldn’t spend an hour in line. So we decided to move on.

We went to the Piazza della Signoria where I always enjoy looking at the statues that are wired up electrically to zap pigeons.

Then we had a brief walk through the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio. It was free after all so why not? We decided to avoid the crowds at the Museum though and continued our walk up to the Duomo.

The Cathedral itself is looking pretty good. Just a tiny bit of scaffolding on the side, which I was careful to avoid photographing.

And the Baptistry looks pretty fine also.

And what can you say about the “Gates of Paradise?” Michelangelo got that name right.

We went to Ponte Vecchio and although all the jewelry stores were open the crowds were smaller than we remembered. Maybe everybody was over in line at the Uffizi.

The Arno was swollen and muddy where it passed under the bridge.

Another view of the muddy Arno. You can see what’s coming.

We walked along the river past the Uffizi again (the line was now really massive.) Then we bought some focaccia bread at a bakery. At this point the skies opened up. A highlight of our trip was standing in a side alley in Florence under our umbrellas, gnawing on a piece of desiccated foccacia while the lightning flashed and thunder crashed around us. A shopkeeper took pity on us and let us stand in his doorway while the worst of the rain came down.

We made it to Santa Croce but like most churches that Sunday it was closed to tourists. Maria held our umbrellas while I took a photo.

One last soggy photo and our time was up. We headed back to the bus. So ended our “three hour tour.”

On the way back we stopped at a leather factory (what tour doesn’t do that?) and Maria got some nice little change purses as souvenirs. Earlier on I had picked up a little leather credit card case to hold our Sea Passes and it gave great service all the rest of our journey. Nothing like Florentine leather.

We rode back to La Spezia, got back on the ship, and as we prepared to sail away the clouds started to disappear. A good sign for our next port of call on the French Riviera.







Civatavecchia – Embarkation and All That

As Rome woke up on Saturday morning and we got ready for our taxi ride to the ship, I stepped out on our postage stamp sized balcony for a photo of the street in front of the hotel.

Arrivederci Roma! We had a lot better time than we expected, since we were just here waiting to go on the ship.

We crammed ourselves and our luggage into the tiny elevator – accompanied by another idiot who couldn’t be bothered to walk down one flight of stairs. Finally we got to the lobby.

When we had checked out, we were picked up by the same nice young man who drove us in from the airport. It was about an hour’s drive to the port – first through the streets of Rome and then through the country. As we got closer to Civitavecchia and entered the town itself traffic got very heavy again. Once we were on the Silhouette we figured out why.

There were three Costa ships in port.

Also Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

Not to mention a ro-ro ferry and our own ship. About 15000 cruisers coming and going. That is a lot, even for a busy port like Civitavecchia.

The weather – which had been nice in Rome – now threatened to turn rainy and stormy. In fact Celebrity Cruises changed our first port of call from Livorno to La Spezia – a snug harbor which was easier to get into if the sea was bumpy. This didn’t affect our trip to Florence much since we scheduled a ship’s tour. But those with private tours were scrambling to change their reservations.

We’d been here before but this was our first time embarking in Civatavecchia. The cruise terminal isn’t fancy, but they were fast and efficient. We were soon whisked through the lines and safely aboard.

Meanwhile the crew loaded up some last minute provisions.

We settled into Cabin 7312 and unpacked after Elroy (our friendly cabin attendant) delivered our luggage. This would be home for two weeks. Seemed a bit tiny after our nice hotel room in Rome but we soon got used to it.

Time to sail away. Civatavecchia isn’t the most butt-ugly port we’ve been in (Hello St. Petersburg!) but it isn’t exactly Sydney Harbor either. This familiar power plant looks a lot better at twilight than it does in the daytime. And so we began our journey.



A Special Roman Day

We spent our second full day in Rome in some of our old familiar haunts. No Metro or meandering today. But there were a few surprises in store.

We began by heading over to the Via del Corso. As we walked down the busy thoroughfare, we noticed a massive traffic jam shaping up – unusual even for Rome traffic. As we got further along we saw that the Police and Carabinieri had the street barricaded and were diverting everyone away from the Parliamentary square. There were a lot of guys walking around with assault rifles but the atmosphere seemed calm enough. It looked like some bigwig was coming to visit. Too early for Donald Trump though.

We turned off del Corso and headed over to one of our favorite spots – Piazza di Pietra. There is the huge facade of the Temple of Hadrian here and this is a spot where Teddy loved to run around in when we were here in 2010.  Maria in the above photo is in front of the facade.

Next we went to the Pantheon – and it was nice to see that the authorities had finally completed their restoration work on this marvelous 2nd century building. The last couple of times we were here there was metal scaffolding all over the front of the Pantheon. Now it looks terrific.

The Pantheon is so old the architects of the time hadn’t figured out how to do a complete domed ceiling. So there is “a hole in the roof where the rain comes in” – if I may quote Sgt. Pepper.

While we were at the Pantheon a precision flying team of jet fighters zoomed overhead trailing smoke in the colors of the Italian flag. Quite a contrast with the 2nd century. Something interesting must be going on in Rome today.

Then it was on to my favorite spot in Rome – Piazza Navona. The last couple of times we were here it looked like an EllisDon construction site – the water was turned off and there were lumber barricades all over the fountains – a mess. Now everything is blissfully back to normal.

Why Pope Innocent X had Bernini build his graceful Four Rivers fountain around the first century Obelisk of Domitian is a mystery to me. When it comes to aesthetics, I guess he wasn’t infallible.

The smaller sub-fountains are more to my liking.

As we were touring Piazza Navona, a military band marched in, lined up and proceeded to play a concert of sprightly European marches. No John Philip Souza here. From the look of their uniforms I believe this is The Italian Air Force Band. They were very professional.

At this point our curiosity got he better of us and Maria asked some of the spectators what was going on. Turns out it was Armed Forces Day – Italy’s version of Remembrance day, since for the Italians the First World War ended a week earlier than it did for our troops.

From Piazza Navona we headed over to Torre Argentina, a Roman ruin unearthed in 1926. We had seen it the day before, but today we decided to take a closer look.

Apparently Julius Caesar was assassinated here in 44 BC, but we didn’t see any dudes in togas running around with knives (unlike the Colosseum.) What we did see was

cats. Lots of ’em. But they were not your typical mangy emaciated street cat. These were well fed and sleek – obviously well cared for. One even looked amazingly like our own Mr. Oates. We had to investigate further.

Turns out that at the edge of the ruin was a cat sanctuary and adoption place. Inside were dozens of cats – some in cages, others lying round in cat beds. The Roman cat sanctuary was sponsored by some good folks in the UK – and people like us who made a donation. We worked our way through – a chin rub here, an ear scratch there – and we certainly got our cat fix from the mellow and friendly felines who were lucky enough to be in the room.

After cats it was time for flowers so we toured the Campo de Fiori market.

And after that we visited one of our favorite places – the Renaissance Palazzo della Cancelleria – where they have an exhibit of some of Leonardo da Vinci’s large machines.

And finally it was back up del Corso ,over to the Spanish Steps and finally to Piazza del Popolo – where we probably should have ended up the day before.

We headed back to our hotel for a break and that evening we went back to do Ris for dinner. This time we had pasta – the time before it was pizza. Same great red wine though. So ended our second full day in Rome. Off to the ship tomorrow.





Metro and Mixup

Our first full day in Rome started with a short walk to the Spanish steps – just a couple of blocks from our hotel.

Then we climbed up the steps to the church of Trinita dei Monti – where we got this nice view of the city aand the Vatican. After a brief visit inside the 17th century church we were off to the Spagna Metro station. We wanted to visit St Paul Outside the Walls and that meant a ride on the Rome Metro. Even though it was midweek and after the morning rush, the Metro was absolutely jammed. When we changed at Termini things were even more jammed. It was a relief to arrive at the San Paolo Metro station and take a short walk to the Basilica.

The entrance to the Basilica is quite impressive.


And because it is a major basilica. St Paul’s had a Holy Door open in the Year of Mercy. So we went in that way.

The interior is also very impressive. St Paul’s is laid out like a typical 5th century Roman church, and the original Basilica was here since 380 or so. However the present church is a 19th century reproduction, since the old basilica was destroyed by fire in the 1820s. Nice job of restoration though.

And for all you Pauline fans out there, here is the tomb of the Apostle himself.

Back on the Metro we went, back to Central Rome. Since we were already being crushed, we stayed on to the Vatican for a quick visit. St Peter’s was even more crowded than St Paul’s so we just took a quick look around the square and then decided to walk back to our hotel. That’s when our mixup began.

It seemed straightforward enough. First we walked along a broad busy avenue to Castel Sant’Angelo.

Then we had to go across the Tiber. At this point the smart thing to do was walk along the river and go to Piazza del Popolo. But it’s been a while, we weren’t sure so we forged ahead straight into the bowels of Rome.

We were never that lost, but it was a longer walk than we thought. Maria stopped a couple of times to ask directions.

By the time we reached this famous church of Sant’Andrea we were within a couple of blocks of the Victor Emmanuel monument and the familiar Via del Corso. Up the well known del Corso we went.

We took a slight detour off del Corso to visit this strange fountain – which looks gorgeously restored by the way. Many people were busy throwing coins into it (don’t ask why.)

After that it was a pleasant jaunt through side streets to the Hotel Condotti. We took a foot resting break and after that we headed out to have dinner at Di Qua. We enjoyed some of the best gnocchi we have ever had and after that it was back to the hotel. Not a bad second day in Rome.

To Rome (and Back)

Well we’ve been away – most of the month in fact – but we’re back. In three weeks we visited:

  • The UK
  • Italy
  • France
  • Spain
  • The US

Now the only person who’d be crazy enough to make a trip like this – aside from Justin Bieber – would be someone taking a Transatlantic cruise. That’s the ticket.

I’m going to do some blogs on the trip and share some photos. I didn’t post live updates because I’m a dinosaur and I worry about home security. It’ll probably take me longer to post than it did to take the trip. Here goes.

We started out on Nov 1 by driving to Montreal, dropping off the car at Park n’ Fly and heading to the airport. There’s Maria above waiting with her book and carry on. We had an overnight flight to Heathrow on British Airways, a stopover there and a connection to Rome.

It was a Dickensian trip – the best of flights, the worst of flights. We started off by winning the BA lottery. Our names were called out and we got an upgrade to business class courtesy of our BA loyalty card. So this was the best of flights – great food, fully reclining seats, the chance to catch a bit more sleep on the way to London. Once we got there we walked over to the Transfer desk, and commenced our wait. Maria took advantage of the wait to do some shopping in the Duty Free (Fortnum and Mason tea mostly) while I hung out and got over the slight jetlag so far. Some brunch in the terminal and some decent (by UK standards) coffee and we were feeling a lot chippier.

Our flight was called and it was time for the worst of flights. First of all BA announced that the flight was chokka-block with people and there would be no room for all the carry-on baggage. When will airlines get it that they created this problem themselves by charging a fortune to check regular baggage? Anyway we decided that rather than fight for rack space on the plane we’d check Maria’s carry-on.

Then we crammed ourselves with 200 of our closest fellow travelers into the back of a barebones Airbus 321 – no screens, no audio, nothing. Maria’s seatmate had a cold. What a joyful ride this was. After three hours of bliss we arrived at Fiumicino airport. The checked bag arrived right away. The other stuff took a while but we got it.

Things improved after that. I had arranged for transport to our hotel and a nice young man picked us up in a Renault minivan. He and Maria chatted amiably in Italian while he navigated the steets of Rome and got us safely to the Hotel Condotti near the Spanish Steps.

Our hotel room was surprisingly spacious and quiet. We had a sitting area as well.

After a pleasant meal at doRis Ristorante (great house wine) we settled down for our first night in the Eternal City.

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