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.
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. (https://julivertmeu.com/)
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.
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. (https://pbase.com/diplostrat/sahara) When Fred received the truck in ’74 it had been completely looted – here’s hoping that we do better this time!
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.
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.
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.
Sailing away from Funchal we passed Kong’s island. 😉
Sadly, we passed through the Straits of Gibralter at night.
The next day we sailed up the Mediterranean coast of Spain towards Barcelona.
As the sun set, we passed Ibiza. Barcelona tomorrow morning.
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.
Everyone recommended the Barcelona Maritime Museum (https://www.mmb.cat/en/) 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)
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. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Lepanto) 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!)
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.
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.
History records that by the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the galley was being replaced by the galleass. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.
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.
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!
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! (https://www.barcelonaguitartrio.com/en/bcn3-2/) They are a local group and the audience clearly liked and supported them.
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. (https://www.casabatllo.es/en/) Casa Batilo means “bat house” but sometimes it seemed more batspit crazy!
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.
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. (https://elbornculturaimemoria.barcelona.cat/)
And, with that, it was time to pack for the flight to Gatwick.