Monthly Archives: April 2023

Barcelona Rambla

In 1955 the S.S Exeter sailed into Barcelona harbor.

On deck was a five year old Fred who remembers to this day – Spanish railway cars have four big wheels and not eight small wheels like US trains, and that the clamshells on dock cranes don’t have teeth so they don’t puncture the hulls of ships as they load and unload things like coal. His father took two pencils and some string to explain how cargo booms can more items between the pier and a ship. Useful things for a five year old to understand!

Our arrival in Barcelona began with a pretty sunrise.

Barcelona harbor is still busy and now has a huge section devoted to cruise ships and ferries. We disembarked and grabbed a taxi to our hotel, conveniently located down near the water and deep in the gothic district, aka, tourist central.

Hotel Colonial, originally build as a bank, in the 1880’s.

We like the hop on/off busses available in many cities as they allow you an overview and can help you to get an impression of a city and to start to get your bearings. We bought a two day ticket and set off. We had thought to get off and admire the new Familia Sagrada (Sacred Family) cathedral, but the crowds were huge and it was not clear that we would be able to get on the next bus.

So we got off at the top of La Rambla, the main tourist strip and inspiration for the title of this post, and went looking for lunch. This turned out to be a nice little restaurant in an ancient cellar. A tourist trap to be sure, but a very nice trap. (

Lunch is down here
Denise and paella
Fabulous wash stand
Hams and sausages in the market.

After lunch, we continued back to the hotel, admiring (?) the crowds.

Dinner was a wander through the neighborhood in search of tapas. We especially enjoyed the Chorizo Napalm.

We loved this apartment, built over the street.
Xorizo flambé
Glorious views down every street.
(Santa Maria del Mar)

Tourism would begin in earnest on the morrow!

The Euro Saga Begins

As 2020 opened, we began to get serious about our plans to spend a year or three traveling in Europe and North Africa in the 917.

The idea was fairly simple – ship the truck to Europe and start traveling in a part of the world that had mostly been fly over countries for most of our lives. Then came COVID. 

Now, in 2023, it was time for another look. Several things had changed – the increasing enforcement of the Schengen Agreement which limits time in the European Union to 90 days in, followed by 90 days out, was a major complication. Although there are reports that enforcement is variable, the penalty for overstay is a ban from entering the EU for three years, so this is not something that we want to risk. So this means that we will be traveling in and out of the UK, where we can get 180 days at a time, and then dropping into the EU.

So we launched into a siege of repairs and upgrades, picked a shipping company, and made a reservation. Denise found a repositioning cruise on Viking with very low rates, so we chose that as an alternative to flying. In the end, as the ship carrying the truck is running about two weeks late, this was probably not a good idea for the initial trip – would have been better for subsequent returns to the UK, but it was a lot of fun. And an interesting opportunity to compare/contrast with our almost identical trip on Seabourn.

We drove up to Baltimore to drop off the truck, to almost exactly the same place where Fred recovered his Blazer in 1975, after the trans Sahara trip. ( When Fred received the truck in ’74 it had been completely looted – here’s hoping that we do better this time!

The 917 settled in with new neighbors on the pier. Ended up sitting there for two weeks.

We flew to Fort Lauderdale to join the Viking Star. Boarding was easy and we set out to explore the ship which, while larger, was almost the twin in layout to the Seabourn Sojourn. It was fascinating to note what was the same and what differed from the other ship. In the end, they were more alike than different. 

In the old days, you boarded from dark, dingy pier warehouses. Now you use the same type of jetway as an airport.
Home for the next week.
Viking has wonderful baths on both their river and ocean ships.
Looking around the harbor we noted a RoRo of the type that would take the 917 to England.

After an easy departure, the Pilot went ashore and, later, we waved goodbye to Miami. We were finally en route.

We settled into the routine at sea. And we enjoyed the wonderful weather.

Passengers gathering to photograph part of the dining staff against the sunset.
The formal portrait. (I sent it to the chief of restaurant services, the gentleman on the right.)

We skipped going ashore in Phillipsburg, but were looking forward to Madeira, a kind of magical place. It is easy to see why it it is so high on the European list of vacation spots. With only a four hour visit, we skipped the the packaged tours and set off into town to in search of coffee and a visit to the cathedral.

Funchal is really pretty.

Our first stop was the park where we admired a statue of Bolivar and had a chat with a lovely lady who had just moved back to Madeira after living in Venezuela for years.

Fortified with and espresso and a gelato, we visited the cathedral, a rather plain, gothic building, dating from the late 16th century. One of the few intact buildings from the early colonial period.

Nowhere near as large or gaudy as some the the large European cathedrals, Funchal is still very nice.
The ceiling was spectacular.
Galleon style tour boat, sailing in front of the downtown.

Sailing away from Funchal we passed Kong’s island. 😉

(Kong was not receiving visitors.)

Sadly, we passed through the Straits of Gibralter at night.

Allegedly, the Viking Star is very “green” and most of this is water vapor.
We passed on the Moroccan side.

The next day we sailed up the Mediterranean coast of Spain towards Barcelona.

The Penon d’Ifach (A really big rock)

As the sun set, we passed Ibiza. Barcelona tomorrow morning.

Barcelona, Parte Dos

After finding our bearings on day one, we had a better idea of what we wanted to see on day two.  We started by taking the Hop On Hop Off bus on its second route.

The arches on the bull ring harken back to the Romans and the Moors.
American Cultural Imperialism!

Everyone recommended the Barcelona Maritime Museum ( So we “hopped” off the bus at the front door. It is an amazing place with a full size reproduction of the galley “Real”, the flagship of the Holy League Fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.  (1571)

This beast is massive and, for fans of classical galleys, note that the ram is now well above the water line. This allows the ship to be faster than a Greco/Roman galley. These ships were fitted with cannon in the bow.

The world is divided into two types of people, normal people who have never heard of the Battle of Lepanto and geeks like Fred who love this stuff. ( He remembers a young adult book about the battle which turned on the adventures of a young fisherman who was there, met Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish author, and had other adventures. Cervantes was badly injured during the battle.

Fred needless to say, knew all about this and was absolutely fascinated by both the small scale model and the full size reconstruction, which had been built for the 300 year anniversary. (Build a few more and we could make a great movie!)

Large scale model

Displays about the life led by the enslaved rowers were interesting, if depressing.  While there were some paid rowers, as in Roman times (sorry, Ben-Hur is wrong), most were slaves who spent all their time chained four or five to the oar. When not in battle, the ship was typically rowed by only a quarter of the rowers at a time, but they never left their oars, day or night, while at sea. Moslem scholars noted that you could smell a Christian galley before you saw it.

Denise showing off the fine lines and shallow draft. (Of the galley.)

The Ottoman admiral (amir al-bahr, now you know where the word originated – literally the commander of the fleet), Ali Pasha is supposed to have told his Christian galley slaves, “If I win the battle, I promise you your liberty. If the day is yours, then God has given it to you.” John of Austria, more laconically, warned his crew, “There is no paradise for cowards.”

The building housing the Maritime Museum is itself of great historical interest.  It dates back to 1500 and was built as a multi-lane shipyard, where the original ship was built.

Each of the galleries in the shipyard is huge. Amazing to consider that most of the Spanish galleys at Lepanto were built in this very building.

History records that by the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the galley was being replaced by the galleass. ( Most scholars attribute much of the Holy Leagues success against the Ottomans to placement of six galleasses at the front of the fleet where their unique ability to fire broadsides devastated the Ottoman galleys which could only fire forwards.

The reconstruction is beautiful.

By the Battle of the Armada in 1588, almost all of the ships used were galleons with no oars, but lots of cannon on the sides. But, it is reported that there were four great Venetian galleasses that were seaworthy enough to cross the Bay of Biscay.

Outside of the museum, the paving was being repaired. And right underneath was ancient paving. Roman? Medieval?

On a nice bright sunny day we took a cable car from the port up a hill to the south of the city.  The views were spectacular and included full city views (See pictures at top of page) plus the loading of a ferry to Morocco.  We even saw a Unimog camper being loaded.  And enjoyed a nice cappucino coffee with our view!

These ferries go all over the Mediterranean; Italy, Morocco and beyond.

We visited more museums while in Barcelona.  The first was the Picasso Museum. The mature Picasso is a specialized form of art. But we had learned that the Picasso museum featured his early work as well, and that aspect of the museum was absolutely fascinating – to watch him evolve from a superb, but very “classic” painter into an avant garde artist. While Fred is not a fan of the avant garde, it is clear that he would never have become as famous had he continued in the traditional vein.  (No photos)

But our taste runs to music rather than Picasso and after another wonderful tapas dinner, we enjoyed an excellent Flamenco guitar and dance concert at the Palau de la Musica.  The guitarists were stunning and we even bought a CD! ( They are a local group and the audience clearly liked and supported them.

Incredible ceiling
The hall was beautiful and had a definite Barcelona/Gaudi vibe.
Your photo with the band.

The second Museum was the Casa Batilo, remodeled by Gaudi with a free hand and deep pockets.  The result is an absolutely different house design, though based on some very interesting science, with no straight lines anywhere. ( Casa Batilo means “bat house” but sometimes it seemed more batspit crazy!

Even the exterior is unusual. Not unique, as there are many buildings in Barcelona with the fantasy curved lines.
Big crowd
Bent walls and underwater colors
Wild colors, but this air shaft is actually practical.
Denise, debating whether we need a new front door.
The last hurrah of the visit is a hallucinogenic light show. The ’60’s live!

Lastly, we simply enjoyed wandering the tiny streets of the Gothic section near our hotel.  You never know what you will find….we found ice cream shops (with wonderful ice cream inside), apartments and bridges built over the streets.

Sadly, the cathedral was covered with wraps.
A confusion of walls and arches. Always reuse what is already there.

A seminal event of modern Catalan history was the Siege of Barcelona during the War of Spanish Succession. ( The results were far reaching in many spheres, and one result was the leveling of the Born district to make a clear fire zone outside the city walls.

When it was restored, a large, modern steel market was built. 

And when it reached the end of its commercial life, it was to be razed. When this started it was discovered that the market sat on an extensive range of ruins and, even better, because of municipal records, the exact details of almost every building were known. (

And, with that, it was time to pack for the flight to Gatwick.